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Of Technology And Social Need

Communications technology has come a long way in a lifetime. Once telephone calls were on wires, and television signals over the air. Now television is over metal wire, glass wire, and even from space (satellite), and telephone calls are broadcast over the air. Cellular phone companies are also sending television signals over their networks. These changing capabilities are a tribute to advances in wireless, optical, and satellite communications, but they have side effects.

The rapid growth of cellular communications technology to its third and fourth generations (3G and 4G) prompts the question of how long before the seventh and eighth generations (7G and 8G) are upon us, and how much better could they be? The purpose of technology is to serve man (and woman), not the reverse. But too often, wireless devices seem more like addictions than tools.

Consider the recent introduction of the iPad by Apple. The company, credited with inventing the personal computer (PC), has a history of developing innovative products, such as the iPhone. Before the iPad first went on sale this month, people waited outside retail stores, sometimes overnight, to purchase an iPad. What this says about these people, other than having too much time on their hands, will fill volumes of psychology texts. Mental health aside, for many people, wireless devices such as the iPhone and iPad not only fill business or personal needs, but social needs as well.

Although records are not available for the comparison, it is a safe bet that the number of telephone calls on average per person per month has more than doubled or tripled in the last 30 years. With a wireless device, it is simply easier to make a call at any time, easier than looking for a phone booth (if one can still be found) or waiting for the wired phone at home. But what of the quality (as in content) of the call? Is it really necessary? The effect of wireless communications devices on our "social fabric" is apparent, as two passengers in the same car will often opt to talk to others on cellular telephones rather than to each other. Face-to-face conversations, with all their subtle nuances, are being replaced by one-dimensional wireless conversations or e-mails. And even when that 7G phone brings video calling capabilities to the masses, it will also be supported by screen savers and special effects that will allow any user to "put on a happy face" by means of a menu selection.

As tools, wireless devices are wonderful additions to most peoples' lives. But when they start using such phrases as "that's my life in there" while pointing to their cell phone, then it is time to reconsider which processor is really doing the thinking.

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