In crossing the 8.1 great halls of the Fira Gran Via complex in Barcelona this week, I was reminded of two things: Firstly, the idea of a mobile world has clearly arrived but its potential is only just starting to be imagined. Secondly, having only spent two of the four days there, a longer stint would definitely have required a better pair of shoes.
Nevertheless, putting things in context, the sheer scale of the 20th Mobile World Congress pales in comparison to what this community (a community that also includes the citizens of Barcelona and before them Cannes, and Madrid) has achieved.
It’s actually been a decade since I last attended the event. Some in the PR industry who have spent one or more of these years walking the halls would say I had a lucky escape. This is understandable. For the countless hours my colleagues and clients have invested in this event, not to mention all the other PR folks who have given their blood, sweat and tears to make it a success, the climax can sometimes seem bittersweet.
However, when I reflect on what I heard and witnessed at the show, it’s apparent that something important is happening. It’s not just the thousands of shiny new gadgets ranging from smartphones to ‘wearables’ and ‘hearables’. Nor is it just the hyper-connected cars, cities and citizens who will be brought closer together by the forthcoming 5G networks.
A simple but perhaps insufficient analogy is to describe the moment as akin to the ‘The Great Exhibition’ of 1951. Although, this is not about the technological superiority of any one nation or brand. And despite the almost James Bond movie-like slogans that lit up the various exhibitor stands and conference halls, this also has less to do about saving the world from disaster. Although, some of the innovations at the Global Mobile Awards hosted by non-other than John Cleese went some way towards capturing the sentiment.
One idea of what this could be struck me on the flight home. Thanks to advances from this mobile community, I was able to watch a TED lecture on my tablet, where tech visionary Nicholas Negroponte reflected on the past 30 years of tech. In it, he cites one of his past famous quotes: “Computing is not about computers anymore. It’s about living”. Swap the word ‘computing’ with ‘mobile’ and ‘computers’ with ‘mobility’, and there you have it.
Perhaps the future of this incredible event will see it rebranded as something completely different. This has happened twice already since its early days as the GSM and the 3GSM World Congress. Until that time, I will look forward to returning to Barcelona next year and getting another snapshot into how mobile technologies will become further embedded into our everyday lives.