February 22, 2013 5:13 pm

Please hang up and try again

New research shows that people who use touchscreen devices appear dumber

Barcelona’s El Prat airport will be a plane-spotter’s paradise from Sunday evening as the great, good and not-so good of the mobile communications world arrive for the World Mobile Congress. By Monday the tarmac will be jammed with private aircraft belonging to companies that are best known for dropped calls, overheating batteries, absurd roaming charges, useless apps, annoying call centres, shattered display screens and patchy signals.

Ranked as one of the most important events on the global telco calendar, this year’s congress-cum-expo has a programme designed to please programmers, engineers, revenue management consultants, network service managers and anyone else involved in the complicated process of getting your voice (and messages) from a small chunk of plastic and metal bits to other small chunks of plastic and metal bits all over the planet.

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Tyler Brûlé

A few weeks ago I thought it might be interesting to attend, so I visited the website but had trouble making out what many of the sessions were about. While some speaker sessions had snappy titles, most were accompanied by lengthy descriptions that were nothing short of baffling. What, dear reader, was I supposed to make of the following?

Health: Achieving Scale Through Partnerships How can mobile reach its potential to improve both the outcomes and the economics of global health? One way is through cross-industry partnerships that will allow health solutions a scale that would be out of reach to the mobile and health industries in isolation ... ”

What? For starters, this sounds like a family planning session – hook up with someone via a mobile device, go on a date, go on another date, fall into bed, get hitched and then achieve scale by having some kids. Also, isn’t it missing out on some more pressing issues about public health and mobile devices? Before worrying about getting mobile operators and health ministries together, this session might focus on more fundamental things like injuries and fatalities caused by inappropriate device usage (more on this in a moment).

After combing through a variety of other speeches and seminars on the site (Business Transformation: Reshaping the Operator sounded like a slimming programme for fatties in call centres), I decided there must be room to hold a parallel event to address more urgent issues facing the mobile sector. While it’s unlikely I’ll be able to pull it together by Monday morning, I’ve started a draft outline of various topics the industry could focus on:

The Mobility Myth: Why Mobile Operators Treat Customers Like They’re Still Tethered to a Landline In this session mobile telco chief executives will be grilled by high-usage, frequent-travelling customers who will ask why these companies can’t operate round the clock to service consumers who are in various time zones and might not find it convenient to call the UK (Bangalore) when it’s the middle of the night in Auckland. This segment will also feature a group participation element involving seat restraints for those on stage and rotten fruit for the audience.

Seconds from Death: The Perils of Treating Public Space Like Private Space and How Your Tablet Might be Used Against You! Through the use of re-enactment and live role-playing, this part of the conference will show how easy it is for simple, everyday situations to spiral out of control when device users don’t respect those around them.

Given the rise of tablet devices and Skype usage, the moderator of the session will show how easy it is to grab a tablet from the hands of an inconsiderate user (the person sitting next to you, talking to a colleague with volume turned up to max) and smash it over their head.

Buttons or Bust: Why Nothing Beats a Real Keyboard New research shows that people who use touchscreen devices not only type less but also appear dumber on backlit screens due to typos and silly abbreviations. Industrial designers, anthropologists and primary school teachers will discuss the importance of proper tactile experiences while luxury analysts will present case studies revealing that mechanical devices will represent the more premium end of the market.

Are You In or Out? Instragramaniacs and the Collapse of Conversation A panel of researchers fresh from an assignment in Singapore will release a frightening documentary that shows how the world might look if everyone starts to behave like Instagram-addicted consumers from southeast Asian markets. Footage from parties, concerts and conferences will show that people only want to take photos of what’s happening around them and let the world know what they’re doing. Eventually, all of these people forget to eat, drink and converse and they all end up perishing lonely and without a signal.

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Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

tyler.brule@ft.com

More columns at www.ft.com/brule

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