The Words of the Carlson Family

Wired World

Paul Carlson
June 22, 2004

This article is about communications technology, and how it affects us. Its development is rapid and increasing, and has now reached even the poorest areas of the Third World. I might’ve titled this article Wireless World, except that ‘wired’ has more than one meaning.


Most folk’s perspective on life begins with their own childhood, if not with the latest big fad. History can be fascinating, and its study will illuminate current events like nothing else. Behold: clever amateurs invent amazing new devices, and become wealthy and influential. Reports and commands flash between distant war fronts and home capitals, requiring the improvement of secret codes. Companies, some brand-new, exchange news and information remotely, compelling them to standardize across wide regions. Friendship, and passionate romance, flourishes between unseen chatters. Undersea cables are laid, and nations draw closer together. The world really gets ‘wired up.’ This was the 1830s, and Samuel Morse’s telegraph was the device responsible. Humanity went from needing days to make contact between cities (and weeks between continents), to mere seconds. Morse’s wife had died while he was overseas, and he vowed that no one should ever suffer in loneliness again. Though an amateur, he studied and tinkered until he had a working model. The first telegraphed words, "What hath God wrought?" were wonderful. (And would’ve brought today’s ACLU down on his head!) British author Tom Standage’s book The Victorian Internet recounts this history well. My own grandparents saw automobiles and radio make their debut. My father told me about the first TV sets, and how he and some buddies rented a large wooden cabinet with a tiny screen, so they could watch sports one weekend. I myself saw the end of vacuum tubes, and the first personal computers and cellular phones. (In almost every case, smaller and faster became the order of the day.) Everyone old enough to read this article can recall the lightning-fast spread of the Internet, and the dot-com boom that rode its crest. In the course of my job, I made deliveries to numerous Silicon Valley high-tech firms, from IBM to new little startups. Many failed, and sometimes I took back their computers. But a few, such as eBay, didn’t let that happen.

Third World

Smart corporations are learning to do business in the world’s poorest areas. Avon ladies sell deodorants to Amazon jungle tribes, and British companies market tiny suntan lotion packets to Calcutta’s hard-working women. Also, business microloans are helping them become financially independent. Communications are at the center of this new type of business. Affordable, prepaid cellular phones are sold nearly everywhere in the world, and their growth rate in Africa far outpaces that of the United States. Entire regions now rely on cellular links, sidestepping the copper-wire phase of communications entirely. These aren’t shoddy phones, either. In India, semi-literate villagers don’t like to use text email, so providers are jumping directly to video-capable cellular systems. In South America, new ‘wi-max’ digital links (successor to the popular ‘wi-fi’ 802.11 wireless standard) will soon give telephone and Internet connections to isolated mountain and jungle hamlets. One wi-max base station is able to cover several square miles.


Our wired world has affected crime and policing. America’s Most Wanted has expanded into radio and the Web, rounding up hundreds of bad guys. Cybercriminals are finding ways to rip people off, and most of it remains as dumb (yet effective) as that old Nigerian Bank Account money transfer scheme. The smarter crooks are exactly duplicating bank and credit card company web sites, and tricking people into disclosing their financial information. Even so, brilliant evil hackers are more common in movies than in real life. In a stranger-than-fiction twist, it’s been reported that the (all too realistic) Will Smith thriller movie Enemy of the State is a favorite of Federal agents. A few years ago, in San Francisco, radio station KGO helped catch a nasty carjacker, in a scenario that’s destined to be repeated many more times. A mother ran into a convenience store, "just for a minute," leaving her minivan running and a baby inside. A carjacker jumped in and drove away. The terrified mother called the police, who sent a bulletin to their officers. KGO heard the bulletin on its police radio scanners, and decided to pass along the news. Several miles away, a utility company worker heard the breaking story and looked around. The minivan pulled in behind him, and the driver went into a nearby house. The worker checked, and the baby was still inside the vehicle. He radioed his company dispatcher and the police converged. Within minutes the carjacker was in handcuffs, and the baby reunited with its mother. The national Amber Alert program has streamlined and expanded this process, and stopped numerous kidnappers cold.


Perhaps they can’t say exactly why, but today’s parents worry that excessive video game playing is harmful to their children. Researchers say the story is mixed. The military allows its people to play video games, on a limited basis, to increase their marksmanship and piloting skills. Surgeons can also benefit, with improved dexterity. Opposite this, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has shown that adopting too much high tech, too quickly, does profoundly affect our character and relationships. It seems that our rational brains can keep up, but our emotional selves only develop gradually. This important personal aspect can be left in the dust, so that people become colder and less empathic. Away from those glowing screens, this new type of ‘wired’ individual doesn’t get along very well. On a social level, a group of science fiction writers and their colleagues hope to avoid an Orwellian future, not by resisting technology, but by making sure that surveillance and tracking become even more widespread. For starters, they’re launching a grassroots "watch those government officials" project. That way, ordinary citizens can be just as snoopy toward powerful officials as their enforcement agencies are toward us! In the Third World, activists are watching, and reporting on, corrupt dictators and greedy aristocrats. The world’s attention has, in most cases, kept those brave folks alive and free. But, their impoverished offices may be relying on pirated software. To avoid legal risk, many are switching to Linux. Also, such open source programs are easier to check for ‘back doors’ and other spyware.

The Future

We humans are in the spiritual ‘midway position,’ with mixed good and evil natures. Thus, any new technology will be put to good and evil uses, and sooner rather than later. Marshall McLuhan’s prophesied Global Village is truly coming to pass. The Principle’s prediction about the merging of historical cultures is happening faster than most people ever imagined. Kids can do their homework with the resources of all the world’s libraries and museums at their fingertips. Better still, people in impoverished areas will no longer be left out. For most people it’s a tremendous benefit. However, due to a few extremists raised on hatred, there is a downside. We see Al Qaida using the Internet to brag about its horrific crimes, and Hezbollah using cell phones to remotely detonate suicide bombs. (In case the bomber has last minute second thoughts.) Fortunately, the good guys can often trace these communications to their source. The Internet has been flooded with the vilest sort of pornography. The world, and its leaders, are in a quandary on how to respond. Spain doesn’t even try, and allows its children into X-rated movies. The USA splits the responsibility between parents and Federal agencies. We hardly restrict anything, and then it’s mainly for the sake of our children. China does block communication, ham-handedly, and for blatant political reasons. This also hinders immoral material, yet in the event, this suppression is widely evaded. North Korea, in the process of going backwards as fast as they can, simply bans all private communication . . . For good or ill, and whether we like it or not, the wired future is upon us. How would Heavenly Nation handle these issues?

by Paul Carlson

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