News, media & communications

New mobile milestones and services

According to Gartner, by the end of 2009 there will be 2.6 billion mobile phones on the planet, 1/3 of which will be in Asia Pacific. Last year 779 million new handsets were sold worldwide, of which 50 million were smart phones. Meanwhile, the In Case of Emergency (ICE) service has taken off in the UK partly due to the London bombings. The idea is the brainchild of Bob Brotchie, a Cambridge (UK) based paramedic, who teamed up with Vodafone to encourage people to enter emergency contact details in their mobile phone. Users simply enter the name of the person (next of Kin etc) who should be contacted in case of emergency under the acronym ICE in their mobile's address book.
Ref: BBC (UK), 19 July 2005. 'Mobile head for sales milestone'. and Futurewire Blogspot (US), 20 July 2005.

A demographic divide

Half of the US population now plays video games, but the average age of players is 30. This is leading to a new digital divide as older people (that don't play) accuse younger people (who do) of degeneracy. Critics argue that video games lead to violence (or the normalisation of violence), but so far nobody has produced any conclusive evidence to support this assertion. This is possibly because studies have been too general and too short term, or it could be that there really is no linkage. For example, US crime statistics have shown a downward trend since 1996 while video game sales have shown a dramatic increase over the same period. To some extent this criticism is just political opportunism and has parallels with the history of film and music. Video games are just a medium that is neither inherently good nor bad, but older people see anything old as something to be protected and anything new as something to be resisted. In the 1950s Rock and Roll music was attacked for similar reasons and critics tried to ban it. Moreover, there are many positive aspects to video games. For example, most games are quite complex and require concentration, reasoning, decisions, moral choices and even empathy. Which is perhaps one of the reasons that pilots, lawyers, surgeons, soldiers and even business people are using them as training aides. Indeed, according to John Beck and Mitchell Wade (authors of Got Game), game players tend to be good at evaluating risk, are open to change and tend to try again when faced with failure - all of which is ideal training for a career in business.
Ref: The Economist (UK) 6 August 2005 'Chasing the dream'.  See also Spiked Online (UK) 5 July 2005 'Do video games train for violence', S. Derbyshire.  and
The New Yorker (US) 16 May 2005, 'Brain Candy', M. Gladwell.

The shrinking world of classic literature

Not to be outdone by newspaper publishers who are rushing to produce cut-down (smaller size) versions of daily newspapers (the latest example being the Guardian), some big book publishing houses are launching smaller easier to read versions of classic books. For example, last month Penguin published a cut down, easy to read translation of Tolstoy's War and Peace. Other examples include Bantam Press producing a briefer, easier to read, version of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time and Bloomsbury publishing developing a triple paperback version of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Is this another example of the media industry dumbing down content? Perhaps, but if these changes result in more people reading a book what's the problem so long as the original versions are still available? Moreover, the idea is not exactly new. In Victorian times novels were typically sold in instalments or serial formats.
Ref: The Observer (UK) 11 September 2005. 'Why Hawking's Brief History is about to get even briefer', V. Thorpe.

What the beep?

According to a landmark five-year study by the Wireless World Form (W2F), text messaging remains the communication channel of choice for young people globally despite the best efforts of mobile phone companies to upgrade them to what the industry perceives as faster and better services. So what's the reason for the popularity of "txtspk"? The answer includes simplicity, immediacy and cost, but it's also to do with control. 70% of young people use text speak most of which is unintelligible to prying parents. Interestingly boys are especially fond of texting rather than talking. Girls, meanwhile, have embraced taking photographs with their phones, although they prefer to share their pictures in person rather than sending them as part of a picture message. Other insights from the report include the fact that whilst the industry talks about phones being 'the new music player' young people prefer to keep the two devices separate.  Games don't seem to be making much on an impact on phones either. On a more worrying note the report also observes the use of phones as a tool for bullying with around 20% of users receiving threatening text messages. And in case you're wondering, the average age that people get their first mobile phone is eight.
Ref: Sydney Morning Herald (Aus) 13-14 August 2005. 'Beep in touch',
N. Hanman. 

Are discs dinosaurs and will TV go online?

Over the last ten years 10 billion CDs and DVDs have been sold, primarily, one suspects, to people who thought it would be a good idea to replace older formats of information storage. But no technology is ever futureproof and it's looking increasingly likely that CDs and DVDs will go the way of previous formats. So what's next? The answer, for home entertainment (and possibly data storage and back-up too), is probably on-line distribution. Consider the following fact. Bit Torrent traffic (the peer-to-peer programme that allows users to download a ripped movie in minutes) is responsible for more than 30% of all Internet traffic according to Cache Logic (an Internet traffic analysis company). Does this mean the end for TV as we know it? Indeed, is the movie industry about to go the same way as the music industry? Nobody really knows, but it looks increasingly likely that TV content is about to get separated from networks in the sense that broadcasters won't need to own networks or channels to get their products in front of people in the future. Thus, the content distribution or delivery business is about to disappear as we know it.  Equally, people may choose to watch videos and favourite clips from new shows much in the same way that people already download individual songs rather than albums. Netflix is expected to launch an online download service for movies in late 2005 and we'll see an i-Tunes for TV programmes and movies soon too.
Various including Wired (US) January 2005 'The Bit Torrent Effect', C.Thompson, and Wired (US) DATE???  ' Discs are so dead', R. Capps. See also BusinessWeek (US) January 2005 'First-run films in your living room? H. Green. and the Economist (UK) 9 July 2005 Face value: movies to go.