Eschew ephemera

I had the good fortune to attend a Tech Event in Silicon Valley this week and I gained some fascinating insights. I also met some very interesting people. Here are some snippets from the event.

Silicon Valley Innovation Institute in Palo Alto

The SVII gets together every month. This month there was a panel discussion on broadband. It was interesting to see the direction broadband was taking  but even more interesting to see and hear how people were reacting to the idea of unlimited bandwidth.

But first some numbers from the panelists:

  • 4G will deliver better than wired broadband speeds eventually but the infrastructure isn’t there
  • 120 million people in the US have access to 4G
  • There are 4 billion cell phones world wide and 1.5 billion personal computers in the world today
  • It is estimated that there will be 20 billion mobile devices by 2015
  • It took 125 years to get to 1 billion land-line phone users, 20 years to get to 1 billion cell phone users and took only 3 more years to get to 2 billion cell phone users

Two main themes emerged from this panel. Firstly the effect that unlimited broadband would have on our society and second the different perspective of digital-natives from digital-migrants (to be explained shortly).

One speaker, Ray Abrishami from the WiMax Forum, was convinced that always-on, unlimited broadband was a bad idea. He suggested that language would suffer (lol), social interaction would cease, culture would collapse and economies would fail as increasing numbers of the population saw their device as their companion and they eschewed human contact. This nightmare scenario was increasingly likely, he said, as we lose the ability to manufacture wealth from goods and services and try, instead, to create wealth from ephemera such as games and social media which have no intrinsic value.

Not surprisingly, from a tech crowd like this, he was pretty much alone in his opinion. Indeed one person in the audience pointed out that they would use all the bandwidth they could get their hands on for streaming HD movies and music. Another person commented that without online gaming, online gambling and online porn we would not have made the investment in the infrastructure we have today and we would not all be benefiting from the huge amount of bandwidth we already have.

The economist and digital historian on the panel, Professor Alexander J. Field from Santa Clara University, took a more sanguine approach. He pointed out that it is our children who were born into the digital world, the digital-natives, who are adapting the technology to address world issues that had been previously intractable. While the evidence is clear that we are much less productive when we allow interrupts from email, chat, texts and even phone calls while we are working, the digital-natives take it all in their stride and are still productive. This is because they are harnessing the technology and exploiting it making them more productive than someone who is more reticent in its use. Indeed his main point was that technology brings productivity booms though there is often a lag between the inventing and the exploiting.

And for those of us who are digital-migrants, those of us who have learned to let go of analog technologies (vinyl records, wired-phones and over-the-air broadcasts), we are benefiting from the from the digital-natives embrace of all things new and shiny. If not in the productivity and wealth they are creating but also in what they are teaching us to do with technology. It is not uncommon for our children to give us “hand-me-ups” of their old (12 to 18 months) phones, PC’s and MP3 players as they move to the next cool gadget.

There is no doubt that with always-on, unlimited bandwidth the digital-natives will make full use of the capacity and will do extraordinary things with it. They will shape the future. We should encourage them to do so and accept their leadership. In our society, the Empowering Change we must facilitate is one where success is rewarded, failure is stigma-free and new is embraced.

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1 Response to Eschew ephemera

  1. Ray Abrishami says:


    I was there too. Although I did not record the session, but since I was a speaker, what I said at that venue is quite vivid in my mind. My assumption is that your piece is written as a reporter and is not reflecting a personal opinion. Assuming this is true, I would like to briefly respond.

    First, I am not currently associated with the WiMAX Forum. As a founding member, I was actively involved with the Forum until Dec. 2008. One of the reasons I used slides in my talk was to make sure the core message that I intended to convey would not be lost, confused, or misunderstood. Judging by your article, it certainly looks like I did not succeed.

    I carefully and clearly laid my premise before the audience by showing the opportunities (pros) and challenges (cons) of ubiquitous connectivity. This was aimed at stimulating ensuing discussions as well as encouraging us to think the topic through beyond the prevailing hype.
    Once the pros and cons were objectively established, I expanded on my own personal (biased) views about the subject and the current state of broadband usage. Briefly, the highlights of my points of emphasis included:

    – Lack of 4G technology readiness
    – The great promise of ubiquitous connectivity once 4G has arrived
    – Dominance of social networking usage of the bandwidth which in my view wastes the capability (with mostly idle chatter) without leveraging the power of internet for personal enrichment and knowledge transfer. I did, however, acknowledge a couple of times that it was all about commercialization of the technology and realization of ROI regardless of how they were achieved.
    – Demise of writing skills in the young generation by “texting” and “tweeting” and promoting use of bad English
    – Garbled communication by using handheld devices is in many cases replacing face-to-face family communications that we once used to enjoy
    – Majority of broadband users do not need very high bandwidth to do whatever it is that they must do. Wastefully and pointlessly using the broadband bandwidth does not mean that the bandwidth was needed. It is like placing a family of 4 in a 20 room mansion. Over a short period of time they will generate enough clutter and junk to fill every inch of space as we have all experienced even with the comparatively meager spaces in our households.

    The challenge for me was to start with something with pure and complex technical content and critiquing it by relating certain aspects of it to real life scenarios. Admittedly such abstract notions would be a challenge to present to any audience and I was certainly aware of this challenge ahead of time. However, this comes with the territory when certain topics are discussed. And our panel was addressing one such topic.

    You made certain assertions about my talk that are patently wrong. Your “spin” on the talk makes you sound somewhat technically uninformed to write about such topics unless of course it was all done intentionally to make the article more sensational. My presentation is a matter of record. While you are entitled to your own interpretation and opinion of what you think I said or meant, as a reporter you are required to only state corroborated facts. I never said unlimited broadband was a bad idea nor concluded that culture would collapse and economies would fail.

    I have spent a better part of the past 10 years in building and promoting state-of-the-art broadband wireless products and technologies. Chaos and waste happens at the onset of any social transformation particularly if it is triggered by the emergence of a new technology. What we are experiencing is no exception. Being informed and savvy about it will help us deal with the consequences by exercising care and wisdom.



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