In Albania it is not unusual to see an older person riding a donkey while talking on a cell phone. In India a beggar might pause in his solicitations to make or take a call on his phone. Yes, from cell phones to computers to television, technology has found its way into every corner of the world—even crossing the divide between rich and poor—and has become a part of life for many.
The pervasiveness of technology is perhaps most apparent in the proliferation of cell phones, many of which are no longer just phones. Advanced models enable users to access the Internet, send and receive e-mail and text messages, watch TV, listen to music, take photos, navigate by the Global Positioning System (GPS), and—oh, yes—phone someone!
According to a report in the Washington Post newspaper, a multimedia smartphone “now has more processing power than did the North American Air Defense Command in 1965.” The Post also states: “There is now one cellphone for every two humans on Earth,” and at least 30 nations have more cell phones than people. Indeed, we are witnessing “the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history,” says the paper.
Worldwide, almost 60 percent of users live in developing lands, making the cell phone the first high-tech communications device to have the majority of its users in those lands. Afghanistan, for example, added about 140,000 subscribers a month in 2008, while in recent years Africa has seen cell-phone use grow nearly 50 percent annually.
But the communications revolution has its downside. Cell phones, pagers, and laptop computers make people accessible almost anytime, anywhere, causing some users to feel caught in an electronic web. At the other extreme are technology “addicts,” who have a compulsion to be connected, to know what is going on.
“Addiction,” distraction, interruption—these are perhaps the most recognized problems associated with popular communications and media technology. But the same devices also have much power for good. How, then, can you use them in a balanced, wise, and considerate way? The following articles address this question.