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Does cell phone's impact outweigh PC's?

IBM software developer and blogger says mobile phone takes prize for most influential technology in past 25 years.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
2 min read
SAN JOSE, Calif.--Which technology has had the most impact in the last 25 years?

The cell phone, according to well-known IBM software developer and blogger Sam Ruby. Though his represents just one opinion, Ruby made a strong case for why the cell phone outstrips the PC in terms of effect on the world.

"It's killing the landline; it's killing watches; it's changing the camera business; it's changing the TV industry, the music industry," Ruby said Monday at the New Paradigms for Using Computers (NPUC) 2006 workshop at the IBM Almaden Research Center here.

"It's destroying the pay-phone industry. It's hurting the hotel industry and putting the squeeze on universities," he said during a talk titled "Teenagers on the Go." To highlight the future stability of the device, he added, "Teenagers love the cell phone."

Still, when it comes to hotels, members of the audience questioned cell phones' impact. Ruby answered that they're undermining a long-time source of revenue from premium phone calls.

In the future, he said, cell phones will become even more important as gadgets for navigation, search and entertainment. Imagine MapQuest or Google in your ear, Ruby said, referring to people with cell phone earbuds. People could use voice commands to ask for directions, check gas prices or find deals at the grocery store.

Ruby's discussion was framed by his experience as a parent and open-source software developer--he helped develop the Atom content-syndication format and he's presently a senior technical staff member at IBM's emerging technologies group. He's also father to two teens, ages 14 and 18, who are active on the Web.

Ruby made other projections about the future of the Web. For example, he said, the Web has replaced the desktop in some ways, but now the Web itself is in danger. Why? Ruby believes that based on usage by younger generations, instant messaging will usurp the Web and the phone as the dominant mode of communication.

To kids, e-mail is a tool for parents and teachers, Ruby said. The move away from e-mail will take wider hold as spam continues to pollute the medium, he said. Instant chat, in contrast, is the de facto technology for kids and teens who want to talk to friends.

"E-mail's a goner, it's just a matter of time--just the way phone service is," said Ruby. "But again, we all still have one."