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.