The economic globalization we are currently experiencing will continue, given the continued ease and low cost of moving products and information around the world. This will continue to affect national economies, moving the relative buying power of individuals towards a global average as it levels the economic playing field. As a result, those in the middle classes who live in the richest countries, and who have enjoyed a high standard of living for the past few generations, will experience a decrease in buying power. In the absence of other major changes, the rate of change will taper off as incomes and standards of living normalize to a new level. In essence, globalization will reach a state of what might be called maturity. The question that concerns me now is, will that new economic average level provide the buying power for the average person to have the sort of modern high technology personal communications tools prevalent in the developed countries today?
Increasingly I see almost everyone in North America carrying a cellphone. It has come to be regarded as essential for one’s safety, among other things. More and more people depend on their cellphone as their primary personal communications tool, backed up by email for a slightly smaller proportion of the population. Those who don’t have email and internet access are increasingly left out of popular culture, but those who don’t have cellphones can actually be seen as taking on personal risk. The pay telephones of the mid-to-late 20th century have disappeared over the past one or two decades, so those without a cellphone or wired phone (including those too poor to afford one) can’t communicate beyond the abilities of the average person in the mid-19th century.
Recent economic changes including the mortgage crisis in North America have created growing tent cities of homeless in Los Angeles, for instance, bringing me the worrisome vision of more of them in the coming decades – people mining our trash mountains and landfills for anything of value to sustain themselves, and certainly without cellphones. As far as personal communications, this predicts a greatly increased split between the “haves” and “have-nots”. Depending on where the globalization-related reduction in buying power leads us, the difference between being able to afford personal technology and not could be striking.
Does the personal technology of today require as big a part of the average personal income as it did 50 or 100 years ago? I’d be interested in seeing the results of such a study. Will the relative cost become larger yet, as average North American buying power declines, and reduce the proportion of the population who can afford personal communication tools? Will government, at some point, see the safety and security benefits or some other aspects of personal communication tools as justifying stepping in to make sure everyone has them? Will the proportion of people living a 19th century sort of existence grow, while everyone else moves into a future of ever more sophisticated personal communication?
Like the visions of some science fiction writers of the past, we are already in a time when many people travel around “talking to nobody” on their personal communication devices while others can’t even find a phone with which to call for an ambulance if they need one, and have to hope that one of the more fortunate is nearby and willing to make the call for them. I wonder if, in the future, while shining vehicles fly by on a nearby highway with the occupants talking to others around the world using their nanotechnology-enhanced communication implants, tent cities of the less privileged will live with personal communications capabilities equivalent to those of most people who lived before the mid-19th century. Or will the cost of personal communication tools and having the electricity to run them be reduced and maintained at a low enough level for all but the most destitute to have access to them? I suppose that will happen, as always, if corporations see enough profit in it, or if government sees enough value in it.
As always, I welcome your comments.