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A case for SMS ahead of more advanced messaging techniques

At the moment, my fellow Samizdatista Michael Jennings is somewhere in South China. In fact, a few minutes ago, he crossed the border from the “Special Administrative Zone” in Hong Kong, and into the Shenzhen region(?) of China.

How do I know this? Well, he just sent me an SMS message saying so. Quite extraordinary that it is easy as pie to send a message from China to Australia in such a manner. Of course, it is amazing how blase one gets to modern technology. I have grown in the habit of sending him SMS messages to his phone when he’s in Europe, without thinking about it. Usually we send sports scores and commentaries to each other; as cricket coverage is thin on the ground in China, I’m keeping Michael up to date with the latest scores from the cricket Test in Wellington.

A curious thought- there’s a new “Star Wars” movie coming out soon, and I watched the trailer online last night. In the “Star Wars” universe, SMS has of course been rendered obsolete by holograms. It is all rather futuristic, but is it practical?

No doubt it is technically possible. One of the very bright engineers in the Samizdata.net readership might like to explain what it would require. But will it ever catch on? I am not so sure.

One technology that is here and now is video telephones, marketed here in Australia by 3 Mobile. A cousin of mine gave them a whirl, and I asked her how it went. She reported that it wasn’t as good as she thought; too often, she was not comfortable with her appearance or did not want to have her caller identify her exact location. Although she found the technology quite clever, she found it intrusive, and not as useful as she had hoped.

I think if a clever engineer ever developed a hologram means of communication such as we see in the “Star Wars” movies, they might be dismayed by the lack of interest shown in it.

I will tell you why. Like many bloggers, I blog in my pajamas, and I would shudder to think of letting anyone seeing me in such a state. Especially since, with today being Sunday, I’ve not the slightest of intention of dressing up. I can send SMS messages to South China and no one need know how badly dressed I am. This relatively simple method of communication will be with us for quite a while yet.

12 comments to A case for SMS ahead of more advanced messaging techniques

  • Any society sufficiently advanced to support ubiquitous video telephony is advanced enough to have developed real-time image manipulation technologies. Think exponential, not linear, please.

  • Julian Morrison

    “Volumetric” displays already exist. Nobody uses them except in technically specialist fields, because it’s daft to waste that much storage and effort drawing stuff you don’t care a damn about, like the perfectly rendered view of the top of Princess Leia’s head.

    Free-floating holograms in Star Wars style don’t exist, and probably won’t. Nothing to project the image onto, ergo no image.

  • Hi Scott. Right now I am on WiFi in a Starbucks in central Shenzhen, whis is (by the way) nerd heaven. This is cool all round.

  • APL

    Julian Morrison: “Free-floating holograms in Star Wars style don’t exist, and probably won’t. Nothing to project the image onto, ergo no image.”

    How about image projection using lasers projected into a 3D space, The lasers are nominally invisible, except where they meet in time/space, The interference between the two causes a constructive change in wavelength, that makes the beam at that point visible.

    Spread such interference points in 3D space and, Voila, an image without a screen.

  • zmollusc

    As the mania for style over content seems to show no sign of halting, the bandwidth of holographic communications could be cut drastically by generating beautiful images locally, along with some empty jabbering.
    Hey press-stud! Lots of bandwidth freed up, subjectively fantastic video (holo-o?) quality and no loss of data (since there wasn’t any in the first place). One’s spouse or collegues could even ‘communicate’ with you when your train was in a tunnel, let alone the vast infrastructure savings for broadcast tv.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    So MJ’s left a SAZ (Special Administrative Zone – HK) to jump right in to a SEZ (Special Economic Zone – Shenzhen). Long live socialist-style acronyms!

  • Verity

    APL – Oh,no! You mean as well as having to listen to “Hi! I’m on the train!”, we’re going to be subjected to images in airspace of people talking into mobiles on trains? Son et lumiere in transit? Oh, please not!

  • Mary Contrary


    I don’t know enough physics to know if APL’s suggestion is right, but if given enough time I’ll always bet on “will be done” against “can’t be done”. Of course, it might be impossible to do it in the way being envisaged at the moment, but that just means we need to think of a different way.

    Now I’m off to strap on my feather-suit and fly to Paris…

  • Richard Thomas

    APL’s suggestion runs afowl of the superposition principle in current phyical principles.

    As things currently stand, Julian’s statement of nothing to project an image onto, no image seems to be difficult to overcome.

    Not to say that there won’t be something someday of course. Just not as things currently stand.


  • ThePresentOccupier

    The thing that people tend to forget about SMS is that it was an afterthought in the GSM standards – it came for free as part of the overall system…

    And now it is the biggest money-earner for the networks there is.

    3G remains a joke – the requirement for all new basestations over & above the existing GSM network requires far too high an investment (over & above the licence acquisition fees in, for example, the UK); the networks are more interested in milking the market than having to go back to the dark days of early GSM (or even the analogue/GSM transition).

    And I *really* don’t want a holographic phone. A lightsabre might be fun, however…

  • The Last Toryboy

    In the cyberpunk literature I read, the video images on their phones are not necessarily how they look at the point they take the call (just got out of bed, rings under eyes, hair a mess) but some digitally doctored image that looks more suitable.

    So I think it will catch on, just more refined than you suggest.