Communications technology and related services are evolving at a pace unparalleled in history. It took more than 50 years for the telephone to reach 50% household penetration in the US. Color TV took nearly 15 years. Facebook is floating at the 50% rate now, as of June 2012, less than 6 years after it introduced open registration. Many of Facebook’s users are on mobile devices worldwide. It is now easier to text a status update than it is to access clean water.
Everyone is aware of the networks of information distribution and how life has changed for the many users. There is no need to reiterate what has happened already because we are living it every day. What is important is to discuss the future as it is being created around (and by) us. Technology will continue to evolve according to Moore’s Law, and human rate of adoption is starting to gain momentum as well. How will peoples and governments balance regulation, privacy, and conservative values with accessibility, openness and our passion for progress? I am optimistic about our ability to deal with increasing complexity, however I am concerned about our decreasing concern for what it truly means to purchase the newest smartphone.
Consider in Canada, for example, the issue of national sovereignty in wireless networks. If foreign suppliers to develop the very framework by which we communicate and conduct transactions, what are the consequences for Canadians in the event of espionage? Or in China, if a large American credit card firm is responsible for transactions between consumers, banks and businesses, what would happen if there were a political or economic falling out? These are risks which are difficult to hedge and require sober thought and government involvement. The speed and scale of change is such that it is becoming increasingly difficult to understand and make informed decisions. According to NPR, it would take one month to read all of the user agreements that the average user is exposed to in a year. If we are so willing to simply scroll down and agree to the terms of service, are we as individuals, groups, business or governments really considering the inherent risks?
Again, I am optimistic, albeit borne-again. I predicted large-scale fallout because of increased inter-connectivity and speed of information transition. While this has occurred in the form of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements, these are not events without precedent, nor on such a scope, scale, or outcome to be considered major shifts in human history. Perhaps these are merely tremors of what to come, palpitations caused by the relentless pounding of cell phone tower waves on the established structures of global societies. Regardless of the outcomes however, the future of communications technology will have an instrumental role in the direction of our future history.
Written by Tom Bailey.
Tom earned his MBA from a top-3 university in Taiwan, and his thesis on telecommunications in Canada has been accepted for publication. He works in Toronto, Canada for an NGO which promotes trade between Canada and China.
Follow Tom on Twitter @tommyhbailey