Author’s grandfather, Lawrence A. Wagner, on an airfield in Santiago, Chile, 1931.
By John Fredette, Corporate Communications, Alcatel-Lucent.
Two weeks ago, while helping my mother move for the first time in 48 years, I came across some photos of her father. Lawrence “Sparks” Wagner was one of the first communications officers for Pan American Airlines. Radio communications fascinated him; in fact he had one of the very first radio sets in Baltimore, Maryland. In the early 1930s in South America he had to carry a gun to protect against animals as he and his colleagues oversaw the clearing of jungle land for new air strips. He knew seven languages and was learning Chinese for his upcoming post on PanAm’s China Clipper route when he was tragically killed in a plane crash at the Lima airport.
Based on stories from my grandmother I believe I know what type of person my grandfather was. New technology fascinated him as did the idea of expanding frontiers. He understood the risks, but he wanted to be part of the vanguard of pioneers who were creating a global network of international flight. I am sure he would be amazed by how wireless communications have developed in the last 80 years. I see a direct connection between what we are doing today in developing broadband wireless around the globe and what my grandfather’s industry was doing in the last century.
Certainly the physical dangers for the majority of us in telecommunications are very limited. But there are risks. The risks are not necessarily for us as individuals but rather for our society and its organizations as we plough full speed ahead in developing and broadening the phenomenon referred to as ‘hyperconnectivity’.
Today, more people in more places have access to communications networks and are building (digital) links that are stronger and more prevalent than ever before in history. Hyperconnectivity means always being easily connected by whatever device and wherever you are. It makes almost limitless amounts of data readily available. It is interactive and it is always keeping track of all those interactions.
Hyperconnectivity is not a simple phenomenon. Several colleagues and I at Alcatel-Lucent explored some of its brighter, and sometimes darker sides in a chapter we contributed to the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Information Technology Report, entitled “The Promise and Peril of Hyperconnectivity” (PDF file) . While the paper is relatively short, it does highlight the myriad of impressive benefits that hyperconnectivity is providing to the global community. It also points out some of the downsides that come with hyperconnectivity.
Hyperconnectivity both brings us benefits and confronts us with challenges. It can be a powerful tool for all forms of collaboration, driving global alignment, increased efficiency, and material development. But it has very rapidly changed the way many things are done and people are expected to fully accommodate those changes – fast and no matter what the costs. All of that information and all of that access also present risks for mis-use.
My recent moving endeavors were greatly aided by the various forms of hyperconnectivity available to me:
- My iPhone kept me connected during the 500 mile road trip from Raleigh, North Carolina to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and helped me book a motel for a stay along the way
- During my time away from the office, broadband, my laptop and my iPhone kept me connected for work and conference calls
- I found the resources to sell the contents of my mother’s house online and communicated with the sellers virtually until I was in Pittsburgh
- The house contents sale was advertised online and when it was over my mother was thankful to have an empty house and the proceeds from the sale to buy an iMac
While hyperconnectivity made my trip and the whole experience more efficient and more easily managed in ways that would not have been possible a decade ago, my experience also vividly demonstrated one of the major challenges that hyperconnectivity presents. The ability to stay connected was invaluable in this instance, but disconnecting is sometimes just as important. In this case, however, at least I had that choice.
Which raises and important question – what about the people who are being left behind? Hyperconnectivity is spreading quickly into deeper and deeper recesses of the globe, but will it ever reach everyone? Are we building a hyper-disconnected class? Will the people who are not hyperconnected be at a perpetual disadvantage?
We all have a responsibility to understand the scope, benefits and risks of hyperconnectivity. The chapter my colleagues and I contributed to the GITR is a good foundation for gaining that understanding. I would like to think my grandfather would be proud of it.