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High tech drives lifestyle changes

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, January 11, 1994

The first week of 1994 was a big week. It was the 10th anniversary of the break-up of the AT&T telephone monopoly. Result: an explosion in new telephone services — including voice messaging, faxes, and mobile (cellular) communications.

Last week was also the 10th anniversary of Apple’s announcement of the Macintosh computer. Result: the first easy-to-use computer and the first mass market machine that combined moving images, sound, and data all in one “multimedia” package.

Last week was also the occasion for two important gatherings: the annual Macintosh World Expo that brought more than 65,000 people to San Francisco and the annual consumer electronics show that brought 90,000 people to Las Vegas. As a partcipant in both events, I came away awestruck.

I was awed by the spectacular innovations and the pace of convergence in what I have called the ICED-TEA industries: information, CATV, electronics, digital (computers + software), telephony, edu-tainment and other applications. Using a digital camera, you can now show your Christmas pictures on your TV set or cut and paste a picture of the kids into a letter to Gramma. Musical instruments are now computers and there are now computers you can talk into like a telephone as you watch your calling partners on the screen. Increasing convergence among ICED-TEA industries will produce enormous changes in how we live, work, play, learn and move around.

I was also struck by youthfulness and the unceremonious character of the innovators, the sense of excitement, the prowess of small businesses, the self-confidence of the people (where cell phones outnumbered neckties) and the practical, let’s-do-it-now approach of most of those who are leaders in these new industries that are dominated not by the Japanese or the Germans but by the Americans.

At bottom, these new industries serve the desire of users, customers, everyday homemakers and business people to make their lives simpler, get more control over their home and work environments, connect with more people and places without having to move around or go through gatekeepers, and expand choices in where they live, how they work and how they look after small kids and elderly parents and manage other demands of modern life.

The gizmos, do-dads and other innovations demonstrated in San Francisco and Las Vegas last week respond to and help drive an enormous changes in the lifestyles of ordinary Americans. One is the increasing migration of Americans to “edge cities” and small towns and the rise of the new SOHO market, the moniker applied to the small office-home office set-up, the most rapidly growing business market in the US. This lifestyle change is spearheaded by those caught in corporate downsizing, by increasing opportunities for entrepreneurs to develop and sell new products and services no matter where they live, and by those who feel government-run criminal justice and government-run schools are failing to satisfy their basic needs for personal safety and the education of their children.

Today, as Vice President Gore adds more details to the Administration’s approach to telecommunications policy reform, let’s hope he will push for changes that will make these innovations more quickly available more cheaply to more people no matter where they live.

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