The caption suggested itself when I saw the photo of my colleagues working together to resolve an issue with the camera settings on the phone. The capabilities of modern communication devices are truly astounding and seem to be only limited by the imaginations of the developers. Technology and engineering has given us so much. Learning about the functionality of these devices seems to be largely a social process with users explaining to one another what is useful and how to use it. Sometimes we happen upon new feature that we didn’t know was there. As we learn to use it, we adapt our practices to include it. Soon we wonder how we managed without it.
In the photo we see three academic colleagues comfortable with working together and collaborating. What is not obvious from the photo is that two of the colleagues are based in Manchester and the third at the British University in Dubai. We have a close collaboration with BUiD and frequent discussions on postgraduate teaching and research. Such close collaboration relies on great communication enabled by everyday miracles of modern technology. Online library resources, Flights between Manchester and the UAE, satellite communications, video links, Skype, email, internet and mobile phones have all played their part in allowing us to develop a close working relationship.
In the background, a portrait reminds us of the academics who have gone before. The smartphone is a product of collaborations, research and development involving countless academics and industrialists from fields such as electronics, computing, user interface design, communications, materials, manufacturing and supply chain management. Research contibutions leading to the development of the smartphone includes the work of Alexander Graham Bell, Alan Turing and hundreds or thousands of others.
How many academics does it take to work the phone? We need to acknowledge not just the academic colleagues in the photo but the countless researchers and academics who contributed in so many ways to making the phone work. Not only do we stand on the shoulders of giants we carry their work in miniature form with us enabling us to form and sustain international collaborations.
How many academics does it take to work a smartphone?