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Article: Connected But Not Connecting

Connected but Not Connecting:
The Impact of Technology on Communication

by Cindy Chernow, Chernow Consulting

It is hard to imagine life before July 19, 1969 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and personalized the Space Age. Can you remember life before personal computers, photocopy machines, mobile phones, pagers and the Internet? Most of us have been oblivious to the quakes each major force has had on the workers whose industries changed to produce the lifestyle we have today. New phrases like “the only constant is change” and “adapt or die” have been coined to help us cope.

The computer industry no longer supports a state-of-the-art philosophy. It is now state-of-the-moment. There is more computer power in today’s musical greeting card than existed in mainframe computers in the 1950s and 60s. Today’s desk-top PCs have more computing power than NASA’s had the day man set foot on the moon. The Net has doubled each year since 1988. The merger of the TV and Internet technologies will soon enable everyone with a TV to access the Net; a remarkable statistic when taking into consideration that more people have a home TV than have flush toilets or telephones. By the early 21st century, it is conceivable that 99% of our population will be wired to the Net. Will that be our new mode of communication?

The office will be the first to sport a “smart” look. Futurists envision computers everywhere in the form of tabs, pads (small computers) and boards (yard long ultra thin computer screens) that are roughly an inch, a foot, and a yard in size. Tabs, prototypes of which are currently in development, will work like our present day ID badges and will have the computing power of a PC. Workers will be able to keep track of and communicate with each other via their tabs. Communication and information will be updated to all “terminals” automatically. Pagers will become as obsolete as carbon paper and pads will be scattered around the office like scrap paper is today. Boards will enable teleconferencing, distance learning, and permit doctors to supervise remote location surgery from centralized comprehensive medical centers. All of these microprocessors will be interconnected and information will be continuously updated.

We are connected but we have lost the art of communication. The average American touches 70 microchips before lunch. Think about your day. How many chips do you encounter from the time your digital alarm wakes you until the automatic office door opens when you go to lunch? Millions became aware of technology in April 1998 when a glitch in an AT&T system shut down businesses and government for 20 hours and cost billions of dollars. Similarly, a satellite orientation shift silenced 8 million pagers in May 1998. Patients could not reach their doctors, brokers could not reach their investors and working mothers could not connect with their latchkey children after school.

Like Silly Putty, we are stretching to connect with the rest of the world. Technology, particularly the Internet and e-mail, is fostering an interconnectedness among the world’s educated and the vast emerging middle. Technology will minimize geo-political-economic borders and focus on a highly sophisticated global citizenry who will use global access locally to resolve global issues. Technology is providing access globally to information.

Yet with this increased technology, there is an increasing demand for jobs that involve human-to-human interaction or service. We already see the demand for personalization growing as human interaction and our working relationships become more remote. The challenge facing the American worker is to adapt; to embrace the amorphic emerging world of work or to take a place on the park bench and talk about the good old days as workers in other nations vie to fill the void.

Reprinting with author attribution approved.


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