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What Can You Learn from a Cell Phone? Almost Anything

By Marc Prensky


One and a half billion people, all over the world, are walking around with powerful computers in their pockets and purses. The fact is they often do not realize it, because they call them something else. But today's high-end cell phones have the computing power of a mid-1990s personal computer (PC)—while consuming only one one-hundredth of the energy. Even the simplest, voice-only phones have more complex and powerful chips than the 1969 on-board computer that landed a spaceship on the moon. In the United States, it is almost universally acknowledged that computers are essential for 21st-century students. To most educators "computer " means a PC, a laptop, or, in some instances, a personal digital assistant (PDA); cell phones, on the other hand, are more often regarded as bothersome distractions to the learning process. However, it is time to begin thinking of our cell phones as computers—even more powerful in some ways than their bigger cousins. Both have microchips and perform logical functions. The main difference is that the phones began with, and still have, small size, radio transmission, and communication as their core features, expanding out toward calculation and other functions. This has happened at precisely the same time as the calculation machines we call computers have expanded into communication and other areas. Clearly the two are headed toward meeting in the middle; when all the miniaturization problems have been solved, the result will be tiny, fully featured devices that we carry around (or perhaps have implanted i

Year: 2005
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