In the good ol’ days, our most worrisome concerns when it came to technology were Operating Systems that didn’t do much: fiddling with Winsock while trying to make it work with insipid browsers, popups, Trojans, and yes, even praying that the call waiting didn’t kick in while we downloaded the latest DOOM 2 map. Making a sandwich while we waited for 5 Megabytes to download over a wired phone line now seems like nostalgia in its fondest form, and some computer purists would argue that we had it good back then.
The purists may suggest that we should never have made things smaller. They might even postulate that the age of innocence is over, and they would probably be right; but a new age is just beginning, and the dinosaur-sized PC that sits on your desk is now just that: a dinosaur. The ‘Big Ol’ Beast,’ as I like to call mine, sits there and stares at me sometimes, seemingly pleading with me: “pay attention to me!” “Use me!” it begs. “Bigger is better!” it pouts.
I just chuckle and Swype my finger across a shimmering sheet of Gorilla Glass, giggling like a school girl when a word is transposed into the message I’m composing, without my finger ever leaving the virtual keyboard. Holding a fully functional computer in the palm of my hand is surreal and downright unbelievable, especially when I think about my first computer, an Atari 400 with a flat membrane keyboard, 4 Kilobytes of RAM, and the ability to display a whopping 256 different colors onscreen simultaneously. The wonderment I felt while pounding out (literally – you had to press hard on those keys) games in Atari BASIC seems like only yesterday, but the tech world is a time machine and I’ve been transported into the 21st century – where smaller is better, and just when you thought it was safe to download that new Sudoku game for your shiny new mobile device, you should think again. For as our tech gets smaller, so too does the world we live in.
“Mr. Data – Engage”
Allow me to dispense with a formality: it is Android of which I speak. I’m not going to get into a lengthy debate here, but I’m dismissing the iPhone and iOS from this discussion. While there are many millions who would vehemently disagree with me, I believe the Android OS, and the phones that support it, to be vastly superior to Apple’s offerings – and it appears there are many millions who would agree with me. As a developer who strongly believes in sharing over hoarding, I’m an open-source guy and always have been.
The problem with open-source is that while it promotes the highly admirable philosophies of collaboration, sharing, and (often) freeness, it also sends a message to the lowlifes and scum of the earth. You know the types: those who will scam little old grandmothers out of their life savings. The despicable cross-section of society that often makes me ashamed to admit I’m part of that society. The scammers and spammers – the pond-scum phishermen, as I like to call them.
Herein lies part of the problem: society just can’t turn down something that’s free. If the Android OS has one significant problem, it’s that its open-source nature allows anybody to put free or advertising-supported content on the Android Market. It’s no secret that Google has had their share of problems with previously valid applications being reupped to the Market, replete with all sorts of security exploits. And while it seemed strange to me to install a firewall and antivirus software on my phone, in my mind it was a pure necessity and the first thing I did when I set up my phone. (Note: this is where I tip my hat to Apple’s closed, often oppressive, approach to its marketplace. Oppressive or not, I never sensed a security threat to my iPhone).
That device in your pocket is infinitely more dangerous than anything you ever plugged a keyboard and mouse into. The open-source feeling and the sense that you’re holding a teeny-tiny little PC in the palm of your hand provides a false sense of security, one that turns your phone into a spam magnet. It’s easy to forget, especially if you’re not an IT professional, that not all spam filters are created equal. Indeed, the very nature of mobile devices means we use them on the go, making that device in your pocket a spam attack waiting to happen.