Another Pair for Baker

It’s time to answer two more questions from students at Baker University.

The first question is “When are we going to get solar phones that are green?”

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I serve on Sprint’s Executive Committee for Corporate Social Responsibility. Being “green” is an area of high focus for us, and as a company, we’ve made significant strides (e.g. being the only wireless carrier in the EPA’s Climate Leader program, using wind power for 75% of the electricity needs of our corporate headquarters, and introducing the first cellphone in the industry with completely recycled packaging). But, as you can imagine, participating in high tech industries while protecting the environment is not easy. Electronic devices, like cellphones, represent tremendous challenges in terms of energy consumption (and associated carbon footprint) and toxic waste. But it’s not a challenge that’s going unaddressed – many companies are working to reduce the negative impact of cellphones on creation.

The question specifically asks about solar power. Nearly two years ago a company called Konarka was targeting solar technology for cellphones and thought there might be products out by year end 2007 using their technology. Since then, the company has continued to advance their technology, but there don’t yet appear to be any deals with cellphone manufacturers.

Later in 2007, ecogeek reported on the availability of the world’s first solar cellphone, but it was only available in China. I’ve not seen any reports since then of anything like it coming stateside. What has become commonly available is a relatively broad selection of separate solar chargers that can work with cellphones. These devices work with existing cellphones, simply used instead of a wall outlet to recharge the standard cellphone batteries. Not a bad option at all.

Of course, the industry doesn’t feel constrained to solar power. In fact, Nan Hickman, the professor for the Baker class, recently sent me an article about piezoelectric technology being used to create a voice powered cellphone! As she pointed out in her note to me, such technology may not encourage healthy listening habits…

The second set of questions is: “I get annoyed by people who constantly have their nose in their phone. I feel like it is rude and I find them very hard to talk to. You mentioned that before long everyone will be applying mobility to their products and services. I can’t help but think that a lot of the kids who are allowed to grow up from young ages having a phone with the future’s capabilities will suffer in their ability to interact with others in face-to-face situations. Do you think there will be any negative affects of mobility in future generations that should be worried about?”

When I talk about the adoption of new technologies, like mobility, I often explain that companies must both capture the power, and manage the danger of the new technology. There are many potential dangers in the adoption of mobility. In the question above, I touched upon the dangers that mobile technology represent to the environment. This question highlights the dangers of poor social interaction. There also are the very real dangers of irresponsible uses of mobile technology while driving. Some would point to privacy concerns. Others to health concerns.

In short, the adoption of mobile technology really does introduce dangers that must be managed, as with any new technology. However, I believe that the new positive opportunities that come from mobility are even greater.

This question is particularly concerned with social skills. Parents must pay attention to their kids and encourage their development of interpersonal skills. Technology should neither be the blame nor the substitute for raising healthy members of society. The Internet represented both power and danger relative to interpersonal skills, as did the PC, the landline telephone, and even the printing press. All of these techologies moved us away from an oral face-to-face societal model for communications. And yet, I would argue that each of these technologies have also increased our ability to interact with our fellow humans, both in person and across great distances.

In some ways, the unique characteristics of mobility can increase the opportunity for socialization. One of my favorite startups in mobility is loopt. Loopt uses the unique personal and context/location aware aspects of mobility to (in their words) “help friends connect on the fly and navigate their social lives by orienting them to people, places and events.” In short, loopt makes it easier for friends who text each other to meet face-to-face and to practice personal interaction skills.

So it really comes down to both capturing the power and managing the danger!

Thanks for the questions!

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