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Impact Of Wireless Technology On Society...
Written By: Kia Javadi

The rapid development of wireless communication primarily through cell phones and wireless internet over the past 15 years has caused some concern among critics.  Most inventions in history affect society for decades following its introduction into the consumer market.  Sometimes the consequences and side-effects of a product do not become apparent until much later when there is more time for the social impact to catch up with the widespread use of the product.  This is no exception with wireless communications because the social impacts have not been fully discovered. 

Cell Phones... 

Everywhere one looks there seems to be somebody talking on a cell phone.  Statistics say that nearly one out of every two people holds a cell phone in the United States today.  The number of users was over 160 million by 2003 and continues to grow.  People are becoming closely interconnected through wireless devices like radios, cell phones, and wireless internet.  The innovation of wireless technology has changed how business is conducted.  According to Brown, “when we think about […] ‘the office’ we might imagine a big immobile building surrounded by other big buildings in a big city, like London, New York or Tokyo.  Inside these offices we can observe ‘work in action’” (Brown, 2002).  This image of the corporate world is changing into one of a mobile office.  For the businessman or businesswoman on the road the weapon of choice for tackling the job is a cell phone which may also serve as a walkie-talkie and web browser.  The benefits of a mobile office are great for those constantly on the road (salesmen, real-estate agents, repair technicians, some managers and reporters); they’re a godsend. The same is true for critical workers (doctors, oil-rig firefighters) needed at a moment's notice (Samuelson, 2004).  However, the majority of ordinary people are not doctors or firefighters, and for the everyday teenager or student the practical uses for a cell phone are fairly limited. 

In weighing the use of cell phones one cannot overlook the dangers that they are associated with.  One of the most pronounced harms of using cell phones involves their usage by drivers on the road.  Driving while on the phone definitely increases the chances of being involved in an accident.  Studies and research done by insurance companies vary in how they define an accident involving a cell phone user, but the Insurance Information Institute recently summarized some studies: the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis blamed cell phones for 6 percent of auto accidents each year, involving 2,600 deaths (Samuelson, 2004).  Of course auto accidents are also caused by other forms of negligence on the part of the driver, such as eating, reaching for something in the glove compartment, or having heated conversations with passengers.  A more conscientious approach to cell phone usage during driving should be taken.  This can be encouraged by local cell phone dealers in increasing awareness to this hazard, especially to young drivers who are more likely to be distracted in their early years of driving.

Aside from using cell phones on the freeway, there involves the everyday chitchat and seemingly endless amount of gab.  Private conversations and matters have gone public and there is the threat of an unknowing stranger listening in on your conversations.  In 2003 cell-phone conversations totaled 830 billion minutes estimated CTIA. That's about 75 times greater than in 1991 and almost 50 hours for every man, woman and child in America. How valuable is all this chitchat? The average conversation lasts two-and-a-half to three minutes. Surely many could be postponed or forgotten (Samuelson, 2004).  The increase in “noise pollution” and public disclosures of private conversations does not benefit those involved.  As wireless forms of communication are commercialized and widely used, the art of communication and public speaking wanes because there is less interaction and physical dialogue and more textual chitchat. 

As technology advances and different forms of wireless communication unify into a single piece of equipment, the blending of public work and personal privacy also occurs.  Nowadays cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDA) are merging with web browsing and digital managerial software.  This increases tensions in the workplace and at home when those two lifestyles reach into each others realm.  The technology of new cell phones seemingly increases personal freedom and mobility, but actually tends to take away some of those suggested freedoms.  People are so committed to keeping in touch with e-mail correspondence and being up-to-date in the fast paced commerce that they may become more plugged in and less thoughtful (Samuelson, 2004).  Perhaps the best illustration of wireless communications and its effects on social and workplace behavior can be made by the I Ching of cubicle, white-collared, office workers, Dilbert.

Figure 2: Social concern for cell phone usage

Wireless Internet...

Cell phones aren’t the only major part of wireless communication; the recent expansion of wireless internet has ushered in a whole new spectrum of conveniences and concerns.  Wireless conferences and boardroom meetings across airwaves have saved executives much trouble in traveling via airplanes or driving.  A company now has the ability to make transactions and decisions with another company halfway around the world without leaving their building.  The benefits of such a powerful tool are great for keeping in touch with long distance contacts, but as with any other tool there are costs that accompany those benefits.

Similar to cell phone usage, not all of the effects of extensive use of wireless internet have been researched.  The benefits of wireless internet are minimizing space and clutter with much greater mobility, but the social implications and health effects have been the center of much controversy.  One problem that wireless internet brings up is who is ultimately responsible for the use of this technology.  Because it has been in existence for only a short time there has not been a thorough study on what effects wireless frequencies sent across free space have on people.  Wi-Fi detectors or finders scan a particular location for radio frequencies and show the user the strength of a signal.  The main concern for some is that these frequencies broadcasted are too close to those of radio frequencies and emit small amounts of radiation just like cell phones.

Critics of this technology argue that because there are virtually no legal restrictions on the use of wireless internet in workplaces, schools, and in homes, there are people who are unknowingly exposed to the radiation.  These people are often not informed about the possible dangers of extensive exposure to wireless devices emitting radiation, and they have no control over the use of such devices.  The legislation for this technology fails to keep companies accountable during research and development of their products because of the rapid changes and advancements made in wireless internet. 

With the development and expansion of wireless internet, personal privacy and copyrights have become a topic of controversy in recent years as well.  In 1998, the Digital Millennium Act became the first major legislation measure taken by record companies against copyright violations.  Further restrictions and cracking down on piracy have recently been dealt out on home users.  Some users of wireless internet for personal use argue that there are cases where hackers crack into wireless systems and manipulate systems, which makes catching such criminals difficult.  The ethical solution to such an intangible problem is complicated because simply creating more laws and regulations will stifle certain freedoms in using wireless internet.  There are proposals to construct small communities of wireless internet IP addresses but with each new security in wireless internet there are hackers finding ways around it and gaining access to sensitive information.  The cost-benefit analysis of solving the security and social concerns is currently being addressed by researchers and won’t be complete until years down the road.  For the time being we can see from the guru of office space that the advance technology of wireless networks and communication has its susceptibilities.

Figure 3: Flaw of wireless internet and networks

 Some other social concerns of wireless internet and just internet in general have been the loss of personal communication, just as it is with extensive cell phone use.  Instant messaging programs such as AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ have been revolutionary as they combine the functions of e-mail and phone calls.  The benefit is that one could instantly communicate with people around the world through a simple text window for free.  However, the potential stalker in online chatrooms also exists and may prey on young users of chatting software by obtaining personal information from them. 

Other forms of social problems involve the easy access to pornography and “cybersex”.  There has been the designing of wireless sex suits which supposedly gives the user a virtual sexual experience via teledildonic [sic] devices that, it turns out, look a lot like dildonic [sic] devices (Stein, 2000).  The suits apparently frighten the users more than pleasure them, but development of such devices progresses as a way to wirelessly enjoy sex.  A social decline and rise in wireless forms of communication has replaced intimate talking and face-to-face interactions with images of sensual arousal and sex performed in real time via a digital medium.  There have been cases of rape, incest, child pornography and murders resulting from digital communication.  The major issue surrounds controlling what is posted via wireless internet and accessibility to sensitive information, and legislation fails to provide a comprehensive solution at the moment.  There appears to be no simple solution to the ethical issue of wireless chatrooms and monitoring who goes into them. The best thing parents of young children can do is to educate them, and raise the awareness of children to the dangers of surfing online and disclosing personal information to strangers.


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