Friday, January 6, 2012

Forget the other 99%. This is the 1% that May Really Count

Take us to Your Leader

The New York Times ran an article today about mobile users and the data they access.  Apparently and not surprisingly, the amount of available bandwidth - also known as transmission capacity of all electronic communications – is being over-consumed by mobile devices. Laptop and smart phone users are taking, without much thought, most of the available downloadable traffic space, while at the same time hogging online resources of land-based telecommunications devices.

The article reports that one percent of consumers are generating about half of the mobile traffic.  The article also notes that if you widen these numbers, that technology usage statistics show that 10% of all mobile users are using upwards to 90% of the available bandwidth.

Where is this usage coming from one may ask? It appears that it stems from two main sources.  The first are international business travelers who take their work with them to stay connected and to access global corporate or national networks.  The second set of mobile Internet users are a bit more sublime. These folks are – you guessed it – all of us. 

...Us too...
Apparently, we’re sending and receiving wider amounts of data, pictures, movies, and audio over our mobile devises than ever before.  It also appears that the trend will only continue as prices for mobile devices, access costs and apps decrease while the density of online offerings increase.

According to Michael Flanagan, there are already similarities between the hoarding and use of the finite mobile bandwidth spectrum and the Occupy movement.  He’s quoted in the article, “Some people may draw the parallel to Occupy Wall Street, and I’ve heard comments about ‘Occupy the downlink’”

As the article points out, there are socio-economic, cultural and other access issues at play here.  The majority of users are consuming bandwidth via laptops (63%), but coming in second are smart phones (33%) and at a distant third, Apple’s iPad (3%). In most cases, it is the western, industrialized nations which account for most of the usage. 

But usage is also growing in wealthy nations in the Middle-East and also in China. This is despite the rabid censorship that many Islamic nations with their theistic governments or Communist countries attempt to enforce tough access laws and digital barriers to block access to Internet signals and sites.

The article also notes that Ericcsson, the maker and marketer of smart phones and networks, anticipates “the volume of global mobile data will rise tenfold from 2011 to 2016.”

In the 1970’s, many industrialized nations went through painful oil shortages and lines for gasoline stretched for miles. While energy is still critical for our survival, in the 21st Century, what we seem to crave above all else is a stronger and longer dependence on another valuable resource. That resource is information.  

This also means that if telecommunications companies are not investing now to strengthen their network capacity to support access and stability, then we are all in for a heap of pain when someone or something blows a major circuit and the Internet stops flowing into our devices and our lives.

Perhaps this does not have evolutionary implications for our species just yet. But humans have come to depend more and more on both information and technology to do things for us. Man the tool user has always depended on tools to create and expand culture and solve problems.  But tools also create problems as well. So while we’re consciously or unconsciously connected to the microchip, we may be setting ourselves up for real problems in global communication and access to information if we don’t plan for these nascent (but ongoing) access issues now.

While these problems may present themselves almost as a form of science fiction, in reality, the loss of communication and the lack of sharing of ideas can mean real problems for growing one global community. We’d lose access for supporting education, healthcare, business, entertainment and for public safety – and those are just a few of the fields which depend heavily on Internet technology.

Let alone the loss of bandwidth would mean those who are the poorest would have even less access to global information than they do now. Depending on the nation or community, the poor will remain least able to become part of a growing franchise which promotes democracy and allows for individuals and communities to learn from one another and share information. 

Such a loss, felt unevenly across communities and national borders will perpetuate the least favorable option for global peace and understanding. And that is too scary to contemplate. 

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