The Telecommunications Industry

Exploring the framework for a “Balanced Development” model

 

Ramses Rashidi

©2008 Center for Balanced Development (www.cbdus.org)

 

In the last article we talked about the imbalance in modern arts and entertainment and its impact on society and the economy. Here, we are going to further examine the fragmented nature of growth and development in the modern times. Specifically, we are going to focus on the telecommunications industry.

 

Communication and the Integration of Civilization

Communication has always been an essential part of human existence and a key to social-economic development. Lack of knowledge and the inability to communicate were the main barriers to the growth of the early civilizations and primitive tribes. Simple drawings and sounds, some 50,000 years ago, were the earliest human attempts in trying to convey lasting meaning. The development of speech, symbols and writings made it progressively easier to communicate and leave behind accounts of life for future generations. However, miscommunication or misunderstanding throughout history has been the cause of much human suffering, conflicts and wars. Until the 19th century, long distance communication was very limited and extremely difficult and unreliable. The use of smoke signals and drums to send signals to neighboring communities were common, while letters and written messages were delivered by horses, boats or on foot.

 

With the invention and development of the telegraph and the Morse code in the 19th century the foundation for telecommunications was established. The first long distance communication on wire was conducted by Samuel Morse in 1844 between Washington and Baltimore. In that same year, Innocenzo Manzetti, put forth the idea of the “speaking telegraph” or the telephone. The age of telecommunications had begun. Within a few years Alexander Graham Bell had invented the telephone. Progressively, the development of the telephone, wireless telegraphy, or radio, telegram, telex and fax facilitated a global phenomenon where people across the planet were becoming connected and brought closer together through the evolution of the telecommunications. Now it was possible to instantly contact people half way across the world. The process of the integration of the global social structure, international trade, and the economy had entered a new stage of development.

 

Let’s Talk on the Phone!

Truly, the growth of the telecommunications industry in the past 100 years has been tremendous. In the beginning of the 20th century, there were only 2 million phones worldwide, with 1.4 million in the US, half a million in Europe and about a 100,000 in the rest of the world. By the end of 2006, there were a total of nearly 4 billion fixed-line and mobile subscribers worldwide. This included 1.27 billion fixed-line subscribers and 2.68 billion mobile subscribers. With the development of the mobile phone in the past 20 years, the global telecom industry has been growing at an incredible rate. China, where there were only a few thousand cell-phones in the early 90’s, is now leading the world with 565 million mobiles and 362 million landline subscribers, while adding about 10 million mobile subscribers every month. The US with 257 million mobiles and 270 million landlines, and India with 261 million mobiles and 40 million landlines are among the other global leaders in telecom.

 

Cell-phones in Modern Life and Concerns

With the super fast growth of the telephone industry around the world and particularly the mobile or cell-phone sector, communication has been facilitated at a mindboggling scale, and the scope is ever-widening. Whether we are in a small village in Africa or the streets of New York City, and whether we are talking about personal issues, business, or calling for help, communication across the earth has never been easier. However, like everything in life, when we step out of the bounds of moderation, we start to realize the negative effects.  Specifically, a number of issues have come up as a result of the popular usage of the mobile phones. These issues are in regard to social behavior, protocol, health, safety and the environment, and they have become cause for concern to an increasing number of people. We are gradually learning more about the side-effects of long-term and compulsive usage of the cell-phone.

 

Research shows that Americans average 13 hours a month – with the 18 to 24 age group averaging 22 hours a month- on the cell-phone. We are gradually becoming aware of the need for protocol in using the cell-phone in public places such as; restaurants, shops, malls, supermarkets, streets, public transportation, parks, schools, buildings and even toilets.

 

While the development of the cell-phone is fairly new, recent medical research is starting to see signs of the effects of long-term and repeated use of the cell-phone radiation on our health. Problems with ear infections, head and neck tumors, ringing in the ears, headaches, confusion and neurological symptoms, although have yet to be proven, but call for caution and moderation in using cell-phones. There have also been reports of health problems and symptoms in people that live near the cell-phone transponder towers.

 

Furthermore, research shows the connection between car accidents and the use of cell-phone while driving. Clearly this is a case of driver distraction and the inability to pay full attention to the busy roads and other vehicles. In the recent years, more and more countries are adopting laws to ban the use cell-phone while driving behind the wheel. There are debates over hands-free cell-phones. But overall the idea is to do one thing at a time, and to do it well. The environmental impact of the cell-phone radiation, noise pollution, and hazards related to the disposal of cell-phones and cell-batteries are among the other issues that need to consult upon.

Internet and the Future Outlook

Internet Protocol (IP) telephony or VoIP (voice over IP) technology is quickly picking up momentum as an alternative to the traditional telephone networks. VoIP is also competing with mobile phone networks by offering free or very low cost connections. With over 1 billion internet users worldwide and expanding exponentially, the internet-based telecommunications seems to be the way of the future opening the door to more possibilities.

 

Balanced Development and Telecommunication

We need to remind ourselves about the real objective of modern technology as the means for building more harmonious global society and a better living environment. This objective calls for organic, moderate and relative growth and development of all the various industries much in the same way that the human body grows and develops. The telecommunications industry is not exempt from this universal law. Furthermore, we must realize that the phone or other means of communication are not a substitution for human contact and face to face dialogue. A handshake and even the mere silent presence of someone can covey and express a great deal of feelings and thoughts. Long distance friendship and communication, even though extremely valuable, should be treated as a complimentary element in the development of human potential and social relations. Our planet, at this point in time is facing a variety of issues including, disunity, wars, family breakdown, illiteracy, wasted minds, pollution, poverty, hunger, disease and waste. Telecommunication can facilitate the consultations on what needs to be done and the plan of action. But the change will come as we take on the challenges, embrace our fellow human beings and delve into the field of action.  

 

In the next articles we will examine the growth and development of the banking and finance industry.

 

Ramses Rashidi (ramses@cbdus.org) is the founder and director of Center for Balanced Development.

The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources and services to foster global balance in social, personal, ecological and economic development.