The Connected Human: How the World Is About to Get Even Smaller

Ben Bajarin is the director of consumer technology analysis and research at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley.

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It may be difficult to imagine a world where human beings are even more connected than we are now. Yet the reality is that when it comes to connectivity, we’re barely scratching the surface in terms of where we’ll be in the future.

Many anticipate that this growth will be largely driven by mobile-connected devices like smart phones and tablets. To understand the scope of where we are heading with mobile computing, consider this data from a recent Cisco report:

  • The number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the world’s population in 2012
  • There will be over 10 billion mobile-connected devices in 2016
  • Monthly global mobile-data traffic will surpass 10 exabytes per month in 2016
  • Over 100 million smart-phone users will each consume more than 1 GB of data per month in 2012
  • Global mobile-data traffic will increase eighteenfold between now and 2016
  • Mobile-network connection speeds will increase ninefold by 2016
  • Two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2016

What this data suggests is that the way we use computing devices is drastically changing. For most of the so-called PC era, those who used computers did so primarily chained to a desk. Once the notebook came along, the primary computing device become portable — but not necessarily mobile. That’s why I agree with Harry McCracken’s assertion that we need a new definition for what we call a PC.

(MORE: Why We Need a New Definition of ‘PC’)

The reality is that computing in its purest sense of the word can be done on a multitude of devices in consumers’ hands today. Smart phones and tablets will drive the bulk of what we consider mobile computing in the future because those devices are truly mobile computers.

Analyzing the Cisco data, it becomes clear that in order to hit many of the statistics shared in the report, not only will more humans be connected, but they will also each have a number of connected devices. And as hard as it may be to imagine, what we do in terms of mobile computing today will look drastically different in five years. The way we consume Web content will be different and the way we use our mobile devices to interact with the world around us will be different. This reality can be scary for some, but it’s also empowering for many.

Consider parts of the world like China, Africa and the Middle East where connectivity could provide profound economic opportunity. In fact, the same Cisco report highlights that China will exceed 10% of global mobile-data traffic in 2016. It also points out that the Middle East and Africa will have the strongest mobile-data-traffic growth of any region.

Opportunities for business, trade, commerce and more at every level will become even more embedded into the fabric of societies as the world gets more connected. That doesn’t mean that we won’t face challenges in this increasingly connected and digital age. Things like privacy and security will continue to be challenges that take us into waters where we haven’t tread before.

Many of us Americans are used to having the ability to communicate with anyone at nearly any time. Mobile phones have profoundly changed the way we communicate and stay in touch. As more and more consumers all over the planet get their hands on an increasing number of connected smart devices, the world will feel even smaller than it already does.

The reality, though, is that the infrastructure needed to support this vision is nowhere near in place. That is why I wrote about why technology is so important to America’s future. This global vision is, of course, much larger than America, but American innovation will be a catalyst to drive global connectivity forward.

MORE: Why Technology and Innovation Are Critical to America’s Future

Bajarin is the director of consumer-technology analysis and research at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology-industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley.