The Contours of Our Times: Broadband & Intangibles

When I was stationed in Germany some time ago I found it interesting that there were McDonalds and KFCs located there. Nowadays, we find Starbucks importing green coffee into America and then not just exporting the finished good, but exporting the whole store, or as they like to call it, the whole experience, to other nations. And it is not just an isolated incident, as other American coffee chains, most notably Tullys, have also exported their entire stores to other Nations. So rather than just think left-brain and export hamburgers, chicken, and cups of coffee, these companies are thinking whole brain and exporting their "experience" along with their products. When McDonalds first exported its experience to Germany, it also brought part of the German culture into them by also serving beer. However, when Starbucks recently opened its first stores in Vienna, who have a tradition of great coffee houses, it broke away from the great coffee houses' tradition of allowing smoking and stick with its no smoking policy. This of course has alienated them from a lot of potential customers, however Starbucks is starting to find its own niche customer base who are finding the value of a smoke-free coffee drinking experience. America has for quite some time had a trade imbalance, however, she has partly made up for this with services and information/knowledge, which are not, for the most part, included in the trade numbers. Yet this is slowly starting to slip away with offshoring. And as Pink noted, in the short term, it is not a major problem (unless of course you are one of the persons who is displaced); however, in the long term it could become a major problem depending upon the total negative impact that it has on displacing American workers. A couple of years back when the number of homes in America that had internet access hit 50% and then stayed at the number for a few months, it was suggested by some of the experts that it had reached its saturation point. However, it has recently hit 75% and for the first time, broadband is starting to outpace 56k modem connections. While computer technology helped to usher in the information age, and the internet has had a deep impact on the knowledge age, it seems likely that this broadband capability will have an impact on the next era in that it fits in more with the whole brain concept. The Gilder Paradigm (Wired, 4.12 - Dec 1996) reports that in the future, if the law of thrift in the current paradigm is waste watts and transistors, the law of thrift in the new paradigm will be waste bandwidth and save watts. That is, if bandwidth is free, you get a completely different computer architecture and information economy. And while other futurist simply tell us about the future, George Gilder (Wired 4.03 - Mar 1996) gives us the nuts and bolts about the future. Korea has invested heavily in broadband and from the last report that I heard, leads the world in broadband connections. This type of thinking is one of the reasons that she has become one of the economic tigers in Southeast Asia. While Korea has had a lot of government intervention in creating their network of broadband, America's effort is chiefly done by commercial organizations, which is how Gilder prefers it, as although the government can lead initiatives, he believes that things really take off once they gets their hands out of it. Thus, with this push into broadband, it is going to be interesting to see the impact that it has on each nation. For example, it can be quite expensive to set up a satellite transmission, but with the increase in bandwidth, the feasibility of learning conferences start to become more feasible to organizations. Thus, rather than just text messages and a few graphics coming across your screen, the possibility of conferring face-to-face virtually with a number of people from around the world starts to become a reality. While we often hear that America has a culture-identity crises, I would have to strongly disagree, witness the exportation of experiences rather than products into different nations and the acceptance and want of a more free society by the masses of two middle-east nations (although there are a minority of thugs that are desperately trying to stop it). In "The Future of Knowledge", Verna Allee writes, "The great hope and opportunity offered by the intangibles perspective is that at long last we may be able to reconcile our business and economic models with the fabric of society and the web of life." So if we follow Allee's perspective, the real value is not necessarily in the products that we sell or buy, but rather in the intangibles that one has, such as values, relationships, competence, social citizenship, environmental health, and knowledge. While this is a departure from training's traditional focus on hard skills, it does seem to be the future. And while the internet has become a viable means in the exchange of information, broadband will become an inexpensive and effective means of exchanging experiences.

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