Have You Hugged Your Cell Phone Today

Have You Hugged Your Cell Phone Today?

We are in the midst of a global information revolution driven by the convergence and proliferation of information and communication technologies. The telecommunications sector is changing at warp speed, driven by technological innovation that results in new equipment and services, and also by new entrants and alliances between companies with experience in a wide range of information industries from telecommunications to broadcasting; from computer hardware and software to publishing. As Americans, we are being sucked full force into this intense, deafeningly silent change and we must ask ourselves, is there such a thing as too much communication? Where do we have to draw the line between high-tech and hype? Even though technology is beneficial to our lives in many ways, Americans need to examine the information provided them, and draw a definite line between consumption and total consummation. The Information Age can become a new era of communication and prosperity, or it can become the downfall of social function.

Being members of the new global society of information and technology, Americans have seen many changes over the past decades. The Global Neighborhood has shrunk in size, not physically, but in the general principal of time and availability of services. Airplane flights that used to take fourteen hours are now cut in half. E-mail and global cellular service enables people to just “drop a line” or pick up a phone and call anyone, anytime, anywhere in the world. As discussed in Frances Cairncross’ book, The Death of Distance v2.0, “using the death of distance as a determinant of the cost of communications will probably be the single most important economic force shaping society in the first half of the next century” (19). The death of distance could have profound implications for both individuals and organizations. The ability to work anytime anywhere allows “road warriors” to work without offices on planes, in hotels, and at client sites, and enables information workers to telecommute from their homes rather than traveling to work. This flexibility can be a double-edged sword for individuals, who can work wherever they choose but may never escape the virtual workplace. Organizations may reduce their overhead costs and improve their productivity, but they must also learn how to manage their decentralized work force. Americans must look at all of this information and ask, “Is it really worth it?” America has become the essence of a technological society; consumed by the ease of technological advances and conveniences. A total society of people sitting in cubicles at work on dedicated T1 connections to the Internet and relaxing in their living rooms with digital cable television and DSL Internet connections. Customers can order anything from airline tickets to a pair of J Crew boxer shorts online and take advantage of various services, such as banking and bill paying, all while in their underwear in front of the computer. America is a society that is stuck in traffic on the freeway, cruising on the ‘net with digital PDAs or chatting it up on cell phone with friends, or even finding directions on built-in GPS navigational systems. I’m just as guilty as the next person. Just last week, I needed to know what the weather was going to be like. Of course, stuck in rush hour, the only thing one can do is wait to hear the forecast on the radio. In this age of instant gratification, that was too long to wait, so I hooked my cell phone up to my HP Journada with the Infrared modem connection and downloaded it right there in the car, sitting at a stoplight. American society has so many advanced technologies that get it things done faster, more efficiently and less costly, yet as a society, we are always complaining that there is never enough time, that we can never get anything done and that there needs to be 15 more hours in a day. We seal ourselves up in a box with our computers and PDAs and cell phones and we never come out.

This drastic change is not only affecting people in their private lives either. Commerce is affected much more drastically than the common home. In Stan Davis & Christopher Meyer’s book Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy we learn that on an international level, the “death of distance”(Carincross 19), has profound implications for the globalization of industries and national economies (Davis 136). Rural regions in Europe and North America may lure businesses with their pleasant environment and lower labor costs; however, they are no longer competing only with cities in their own countries, as the competition is no longer being concentrated in large urban areas. Companies may hire information workers in developing countries where labor is far cheaper, not only for data entry and word processing, but for writing computer programs. On the other hand, developing countries now find themselves competing in global markets, where quality and suitability of products may be as important as price. No longer is it necessary to have all the expertise in house. Software engineers in Silicon Valley complain that they are laid off while contractors transmit code from Russia and India. Freelance designers can now send clothing patterns directly to an automated garment factory. Just as North American and European laborers complained in the 1980s about the growth of offshore manufacturing, highly skilled information workers in Silicon Valley now fear losing their jobs to lower paid offshore professionals (Davis 93). These trends open opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs around the world. For consumers, these small e-businesses offer more choice and lower prices because there is no overhead cost for sales clerks and order takers; every order is input into databases and forms automatically and the system notifies the warehouse of the order electronically. It’s all shipped and billed with the interaction of about two people, where it used to take ten to fifteen (Davis 162). Yet these changes pose threats to traditional businesses as well as to employees. Increasingly, companies that want to compete on price will have to “work smarter” to reduce costs and respond to market changes, while others will have to rethink how to add value to attract customers. A total upheaval of “business as usual” is in the works, and the American economy is ripe for the picking.

The growth of such technologies will indeed bring about the change in “business as usual.” Rather than local monopolies like Ameritech and AT&T providing conventional telephone services over copper wires, as shown in The Intelligence Edge: How to Profit in the Information Age by George Freidman, Meredith Friedman, Colin Chapman and John S. Baker, in many countries, consumers are already finding cable television companies, electric utilities and wireless operators competing with telephone companies to reach the end user, offering a combination of voice, data, and video services (206). The phenomenal growth of the Internet as an information resource, communications tool, and electronic marketplace has focused attention on the need for national and global “information infrastructure” (NII and GII) to bring the Internet and other forms of electronic communications within reach of people around the world (Davis 181). The Clinton Administration announced the National Information Infrastructure Initiative (NII) in 1993, calling for joint industry and government efforts to create a seamless and interoperable national broadband infrastructure, an “Information Superhighway” to link all Americans. Vice President Al Gore challenged U.S. industry to connect all of the country’s schools, libraries, hospitals and clinics to the information highway by the year 2000. Clinton’s Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires discounts for the provision of “advanced services” to schools, health care facilities, and libraries (Davis 184). While Americans still are yet to see this initiative take place throughout the country, when fully prepared, will bring a huge enrichment to the educational and medical institutions of America.

Even outside of American borders, one can see this rapid change in telecommunications and technological advances ripping through society. In Japan, the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation has announced its intent to wire every school, home and office with fiber optic cable by the year 2010. Japan’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications estimates the cost of building this network to be between “$150 billion and $230 billion” (Freidman 125) The Japanese are also investing in projects and trials to ensure that users will be able to access a wide variety of services. For example, in 1994, the MPT launched a “$50 million three-year pilot project” (Freidman 125) to assess the feasibility of integrating telecommunications and broadcast services, such as video on demand, high definition television, videoconferencing, tele-shopping and Tele-medicine through fiber optic networks (Friedman 125). The world as we know it will never be the same. Information is at our fingertips and knowledge has become the ultimate resource.

High levels of customer service and individualized attention are likely to become more important. As cited in Danah Zohar’s book, Rewiring the Corporate Brain, Wells Fargo Bank found out that a bank that offers assistance from a human twenty-four hours a day in addition to online electronic banking can attract new customers as well as strengthen the relationships with existing customers (71). American Airlines uses keypunch operators in Barbados to enter data from its flight coupons, which are then fed by satellite and telephone lines back to American’s central computers in Tulsa, Oklahoma. American reportedly saved $3.5 million on data processing in its first year (86). Mead Data Central, a provider of database services, hires overseas workers primarily in Ireland, the Philippines, and South Korea to enter documents in its databases. There are now at least seventy U.S. data processing firms with overseas facilities (92). This overwhelming amount of information being shipped o!

ffshore can be very detrimental for the stability of even the world’s strongest economy. Education becomes so much more important as the mindless data processing and entry-level customer service positions are moved overseas or eradicated by electronic information processing devices. Even in my own company, I see the “computertification” of processes as automated closeout letters and initial customer information setup is established by back end technology and no longer by data entry personnel.

In the short run, these simplistic clerical jobs opened up by companies like American Airlines and Mead Data Central present attractive employment opportunities for developing countries, particularly those with relatively high literacy rates and an large portion of the work force speaking English (Zohar 82). In the long run however, these positions may be made obsolete by optical scanners and voice recognition technology that can transform hardcopy and spoken words into digitized text, leaving the people who used to fill the positions without work and with no marketable skills to adapt in another industry (Zohar 123). These jobs have the same disadvantages as similar jobs in industrialized countries: low pay, boredom, little chance of advancement and high levels of stress from the pressure to reach productivity targets or from computerized monitoring.

Against this background of technological influences, the American society must determine what the hype about this “Information Superhighway” is really about. Several themes recur in these “information infrastructure initiatives.” There are two assumptions that converging technologies will result in information services with both social and economic benefits, and that both public and private sectors must be engaged to ensure the installation of national broadband networks, yet these assumptions need to be carefully examined. Each new communication technology has been lauded as offering countless benefits. Satellites and cable television were to provide the courses taught by the best instructors to students in schools, homes and workplaces. Teleconferencing was to largely eliminate business travel. Tele-medicine was to replace referral of patients to specialists. Computers were to replace traditional teaching with more personalized and interactive instruction. We must look at this, however, as a knife through the heart of the modern economy. Teleconferencing will greatly decrease the need for airline travel, a multi-billion dollar industry employing hundreds of thousands of people. The true interaction of teacher and student, the most important part of going to school, may forever be replaced by the implementation of a computerized education system. As human nature lies today, children need the supervision of an adult teacher to complete their studies at a young age, and older students feel the need to discuss and work with their professors to truly develop and work through problems and research solutions. We must ask ourselves as a society if we feel we can interact just as well with a computer monitor, and if not, where we will draw the line. We need to make a sincere declaration of when and where this kind of technology can be used and when we have to have human interaction.

Thus, investment in technology alone will not likely result in major social benefits. Policymakers in technologically advanced countries appear aware that public sector stimulus is needed to foster new educational and social service applications; there is widespread belief in the need to fund trials and demonstration projects. Yet seed money for pilot projects may not ensure long term implementation. Schools with International Services Digital Network (ISDN) access will benefit if the services they can access turn out to be cost-effective means of achieving their educational priorities. If the services are perceived as frills, or if there is no budget allocation to buy computers or pay monthly usage charges, connection to the information highway will mean little. Similarly, if insurers will not authorize payment for tele-consultations, or physicians are not authorized to practice beyond their borders, tele-medical applications will remain limited. If prices for connection and usage are beyond the reach of low income and rural residents, small businesses and nonprofit organizations, the “much-heralded information society will be very narrowly based” (Friedman 51). Quite honestly, if I were face to face with a computer monitor telling me that I was dying from liver disease, I would pursue the opinion of a real doctor with whom I could actually receive advice from and who could tell me what happened, what I needed to do and exercise the logic to obtain different forms of treatment. No computer in the world can exercise human compassion.

The U.S. communications industry has adopted the banner of the “information superhighway,” with the assumption that there is an enormous new market in information services. While these applications are generally viewed in the United States strictly in business terms, in other countries cultural impact is also a major concern. Both Canada and the European Union (EU) stress the need to use these networks to strengthen their own cultures. However, the proliferation of cable and satellite-delivered channels in Canada and western Europe tells a different story: the demand for content is so great that operators turn to inexpensive sources of content to fill them, and this content is overwhelmingly American.

Another recurring theme is the “we will be left behind” argument. In the late 1980s, U.S. telephone companies sought to convince American policymakers that the United States was at a disadvantage because its citizens did not have Minitels, small computer terminals provided to French households by France Telecom. However, Americans had much of the functionality of the Minitel through widely available facilities, including telephone access to audio text services and growing access to personal computers equipped with modems. Today, Canada, the European Union and Japan are all concerned that they will be left behind the United States if they do not implement their own information infrastructures. Notably, the report to the European Union states: “The first countries to enter the information era will be in a position to dictate the course of future developments to the late-comers” (Davis 203). It may be that their technology companies will have an advantage if they have a ready market for fast packet technologies, such as Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) servers, set-top boxes, and multiplexers that can also be exported. The real payoff for users will be from the application of these technologies to access and share information that can contribute to the development of their own societies and the competitiveness of their economies (Zohar 49).

New technologies and services are enticing, but they also present challenges and paradoxes for the telecommunications industry, users and policymakers. Consider the following: New technologies are introducing changes faster than policymakers can respond. For instance, in many countries, “callback services (where calls between countries with high international tariffs are actually re-originated from a third country with much lower rates such as the United States) are undermining the traditional strategy of monopoly carriers in many developing countries that use high international rates to cross-subsidize domestic rates and generate income that can be invested in domestic infrastructure” (Davis 95). Satellite broadcasting has introduced foreign and commercialized programs in Western Europe and in much of Asia, forcing domestic broadcasters to change their broadcasting techniques to hold on to their audiences. The Internet, seen by many policymakers as an important tool for their industries to remain competitive, opens the door to unfiltered information that may be considered inappropriate or illegal in their countries, especially heavily governed republics like China and Russia (Davis 102). This in turn leads to rifts between large corporations and the governments they live under, adding to the already tumultuous state of many overly governed republics.

While telecommunications services are increasingly being liberalized to attract competitive providers, there is also a growing tendency to consolidate, which brings up the problem too often seen in the media today with companies like Microsoft. The result may be only a few major players in the international economy, as well as a few providers in major domestic markets. These new oligopolies will be able to offer a greater range of services than their predecessors and may make it easier for users looking for “one-stop shopping” to meet their telecommunications needs. The danger, however, is that they will form cartels that will prevent significant competition in price, service, or innovation, much like the oil and energy oligopolies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

New technologies and services are forcing policymakers to rethink their goals of universality. In both industrialized and developing regions, universal service has become a moving target, as policymakers must adjust their goals to make new services more accessible. For example, the U.S. Telecommunications Act of 1996 redefines universal service to include access to schools, libraries and health care facilities, and to include not only “basic” telephone service but also “advanced services,” a term whose definition will evolve over time (Davis 184).

The World Bank estimates that investment in telecommunications in the developing world must double to meet the growing demand for telecommunications services. In spite of accelerated investment in many developing regions during the past decade, the vast majority of people living in developing countries still lack access to basic telecommunications. Yet there is cause for optimism. New technologies offer the possibility of technological leapfrogging, basically to reach end users through wireless local loops or small satellite terminals rather than stringing wire and cable. Digital transmission and switching are increasing reliability and lowering cost, as well as making it possible for subscribers in developing countries to use electronic mail and voice messaging, and to access the Internet (Davis 125). This will lead to the much more rapid “technoligization” of many underdeveloped areas of the world, where often valuable modern resources are unavailable.

As investment in telecommunications infrastructure increases, the gap between information haves and have-nots may become based on price and choice, rather than technology. Countries that continue to favor telecommunications monopolies, or seek to control access to information, may limit user access even where technology is available. In most of Europe, access to the Internet is much more expensive than in North America. As one commentator states: “Digital Europe has many medieval features: road tolls and extortion-like taxes, witch-hunts, an oppressed citizenry, and powers-that-be in feudal towers” (Davis 26). Access is much less affordable in many developing countries. Even professionals in many African countries cannot afford to use telecommunications services (Zohar 87). This, of course creates a huge diversion of power, and often limits the resources of the global economy. When businesspeople, educators and such important information resources are prevented from joining the global neighborhood, there are many ideas and solutions that are not brought into the light of the discovery and communication until much later. Quite often, it was simply because the information was not able to be communicated properly due to the availability of the technology needed to relay it.

New technologies have eliminated distance for the international finance industry, which trades not only around the world but also around the clock; for employees who work together on projects across time zones; for “footloose” businesses that operate from rural communities; and for students and researchers who can search libraries and databases beyond their borders. Yet in many parts of the world, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “The news of its death has been greatly exaggerated. ” Some people may live hours or days from the nearest telephone. Others have facilities available but cannot afford to use them. Still others may not know how to use these new tools to find the information they need, or how to reorganize their work to take advantage of the information available to them. These barriers must also be eliminated if distance is truly to disappear.

As we embark into the 21st century, we as a people and a society need to embrace the advances we have available to us and appreciate what it is for just that… technology. This is not a new way a life; it is a way of making life easier. We cannot afford to place a price on the employment and the livelihood of our own citizens just because it is cheaper to find the work somewhere else. On the same token, a collaborative effort is a group working together towards a common goal, not the elimination or exploitation of one society to satisfy the needs of another. Technology is the key to our future, not a reinstatement of our war-torn past. Sometimes, in our fast paced, super speed lives of cell phones, E-mails, fax machines, drive through weddings, fast food, fast cars, same day shipping and instant coffee… we tend to forget about the things that are really important in life. Today, when you go home… take a little extra time to drive out of your way and enjoy the scenery. Buy some cookies from a Girl Scout in front of Wal-Mart. Wash your car. Tell your spouse you love them. Tell random people on the street hello… or, if you’re shy… just smile at them. Drive to the lake, and just sit there… for as long as you want, listening to the waves and watching the boats on the water…call an old friend… they probably are waiting to hear from you. Forget about the worries of life… forget about the negatives. Play house with your kids… take them to the park… even at my ripe old age of 20, my mom always says I grew up way too fast, before she even knew it. Don’t let that happen… play with them while they still want to do things with you. Roll around in the grass in your back yard with your dog… heck, do it in your front yard, who knows, maybe your neighbors will join you. Read a book. Listen to classical music. Forget about the phone bills and the mortgage payments, and just take a moment to enjoy the incredible gift of life that we have been given. Appreciate your good luck, especially in this time of year, a time of family: a time of celebration. There are people all over the world who have no one, and we all at least have someone, even if it’s just here in this room. So many times, we sit across the aisle from each other, and we send an E-mail to ask a question. We seal ourselves up in our cubicles for 8 hours a day, and leave it at that. Don’t let life pass you by. Everyday is a new adventure, a new journey into life. Everyday is a rebirth of our mind and body. So, today, when you go home, sit down, relax, don’t turn on the TV; I’m sure we’re all sick of politics and the stock market already anyway, don’t sign online, don’t rush off anywhere, count leaves, look for shapes in the clouds, play in the rain, bask in the sunshine. Live life. We are all destined for different paths, and we never know when we may be snatched from this moral coil… so live everyday like it is your last… and even though it won’t be… at least you will always know you had fun… and that’s what is important. Live life as a gift… and take everything from it you can… maybe then the rest of the stuff will seem much less stressful… and probably much less important. Nelson Mandella once said, “We ask ourselves, who are we to be talented, fabulous, brilliant and incredible. We ask ourselves who we are to be special and wonderful.” I ask you all, who are you NOT to be? We need to use technology to make the world a better place, to join friends and enemies across the globe and broaden our horizons; to blaze new paths into the untouched depths of the universe. Remember that next time you pick up a cell phone and start dialing the number, you are part of the Global Neighborhood. Let’s make it a great place to live.


Davis, Stan, and Christopher Meyer. Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy. Reading: Addison Wesley, 1998.

Zohar, Danah. Rewiring the Corporate Brain. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1997.

Cairncross, Frances. The Death of Distance v2.0. 2001. 31 Oct 2001 .