Tape recorders, portable music players, digital cameras—mobile phones and their apps are already substituting for, or even replacing, many such products that used to be ubiquitous in everyday life. Don’t be surprised if they soon stand in for car keys and credit cards, as well. That’s according to Michael Saylor, CEO of MicroStrategy, who addressed a packed auditorium Friday, October 5, at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, on mobile computing and the transformations that he expects it to unleash on consumer and business life as we all know it. He was also discussing his new book on the subject, The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything (Vanguard Press, 2012).
“About half of the economy is going to dematerialize into software,” he said, listing the old-school electronic hardware above as examples of products that used to be sold in droves but are no longer since mobile phone apps can take perform their places. Books and magazines are in this category too—thanks to mobile phones, they too are much less needed. “We see the destruction of traditional manufacturing.”
Michael Saylor, on the left side of the podium, addresses a full house at the Brookings Institution.
Saylor predicted that within five years, there will be five billion smartphone users on the planet, and the phones that they carry will have new functions such as the capacity to start a car, or to withdraw money from an ATM.
Car keys and ATM cards are certainly fine and good, but could a phone do their jobs better? Saylor thinks they could. Unlike car keys, he suggested, a car-ignition phone app could be programmed to only operate under certain conditions. It might be set to not start if you are drunk, for example, or—if you’re a teenager—not to start if your parents aren’t in the car or if it’s later than your curfew.
And a mobile phone banking app? It would trump a traditional ATM card on security. A user can set their phone to require the typing of a PIN code to operate it, unlike an ATM card that is fair game as soon as someone has it in his or her hand. Better still, new phones can be outfitted with homing devices that the phone company and police can use to track them down if they are stolen. Card users all over the world who fear that someone might swipe their cards and go on shopping sprees with them will have much less to fear if they replace them with phones.
“Put a credit card on the phone, and you obliterate hundreds of billions of dollars of credit-card debt per year,” Saylor said.
The mobile-phone revolution will change TVs, as well. Taylor, who acknowledged his occasional frustration over the seven remote controls that he has to sort through when he wants to watch a movie or television show at home, looks forward to the day when all he’ll have to do is point his phone at the TV screen and click it.
“Apple is going to create an apple television. It will be a big box, and there won’t be a remote control. It will have a wifi chip in it. I will take out my phone, I will punch it, and it will work and I won’t want anything else,” he said.
With phones taking on all these new jobs, though, there is bound to be one big shake-up in the human jobs market. Saylor told his audience that we’ll see financing become more and more globalized, due to the profusion of more mobile-phone users worldwide, and those phones gaining the capacities to conduct more and more types of transactions. Microfinancing will evolve into a much more common practice, Saylor said, and there will be more competition for all types of financial services across international borders.
“I could upload a snapshot of my car in South Africa and have it insured by a company in Chicago,” he said. “Banking and financing has traditionally been local. There’s no reason it needs to be.”
The types of jobs that job seekers can find will also markedly shift. We’ll see the formation of many more mobile markets for goods and services, but along with that, the disappearance of most of today’s manufacturing sector. There simply won’t be as many types of products left for factories to churn out.
If so, then the obsolescence of much menial labor that has already been ongoing for decades will likely accelerate. Saylor couched this in optimistic terms: There will be many more high-paying jobs in technology.
“The global middle class will be a big winner, because 20 million people will be in it that weren’t in it before,” he said.
A few words of caution seem appropriate, however. While new technologies roll out all the time, huge upswings of new job opportunities are nowadays few and far between. When can we expect all of these new jobs to appear? And what can displaced workers do in the meantime?
No one can say for sure, but one could imagine a few possibilities. For instance, if Saylor is right about new demands emerging for software programmers, then there will surely be many new jobs in teaching opening up. How else will we prepare all those new phone-app-designer work forces?
And not all human labor can disappear just yet. Obviously, we still need some to manufacture the phones, and others to build and staff the retail outlets that sell them—plenty of buyers still see value in viewing products before they purchase them and having conversations about them with other human beings.
Perhaps mobile phones can disseminate lesson plans and training programs farther and wider, and in so doing help new workers acquire the needed technical skills sets more quickly. And as for those lower-skilled laborers, perhaps mobile phones will become even better at connecting them with labor work opportunities. We’ll have to see. In any case, mobile-phone services now certainly give consumers and businesses with a lot to look forward to—most of it positive, let’s hope—in years to come.
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