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Social change or just more (e)mail?

Telstra News

Posted on November 4, 2009

5 min read

How has telecommunications really impacted our behaviour and attitudes?

There’s no denying that advances in telecommunications are driving tremendous social change across the globe, connecting billions of people like never before and offering incredible possibilities for social interaction and in the workplace.

But how often do we stop and think about how these technologies are impacting our society, how they’ve changed our everyday lives and who’s been left behind? Is there a new digital social etiquette developing and what should it be?

I am giving away my age, but I remember the days before colour TV, the internet or mobile phones, when I was a kid growing up in Nerang on the outskirts of the Gold Coast. One of the big events of the day when we were on school holidays was the arrival of the Postie. As soon as we heard his whistle blow, we’d be out at the mailbox, watching his tiny C100 motorbike going from house to house, while he handed out news from the outside world with a smile and a quick chat.

We’d run inside for a letter opening ceremony on the kitchen table, and I’d put aside the stamps and postcards for my collection. If it was important news, we’d get on the family’s blower, a Bakelite rotary dialler, to tell our friends and family.

I am sure this ritual was repeated all over Australia and the world, because people have always had an insatiable desire to communicate, converse, correspond, connect, stay in touch, pass on … to talk to each other. It has been a key part of human nature since the dawn of time.

The Aboriginal artists who drew the incredible 4000 year old rock art at Eagles Reach in Wollemi National Park 160 km northwest of Sydney, were telling a story to pass on to others. It was the human desire to communicate that inspired Telstra’s predecessors to send the first Morse code signal in the Southern Hemisphere between Melbourne and Williamstown 155 years ago.

Today, I look around my home or my office and I am surrounded with sophisticated telecommunications options, enabling me to communicate in many different ways with just about anyone, anywhere in world at anytime. These technologies have inspired a whole new language and communities of Tweeters, Facebookers, YouTubers, bloggers, emailers, texters and internet gamers. Modern networks, applications and devices have opened up great opportunities to provide better services, to bring people closer together and to conduct business from almost anywhere.

My pockets are packed with devices, a BlackBerry, an iPhone, an HTC touch, a Country Phone and, in my briefcase, a wireless laptop. This means I can communicate from anywhere there is a Telstra telecommunications network. The office follows me home, it fits in my pocket and comes with me to the family barbecue and the kids’ parties but not the dinner table (an example of the Quilty family’s digital social etiquette). These devices even used to wake me at 4am with that familiar Blackberry vibrating sound – but I’ve turned that one off. I also have a constant stream of people who want to be my friends, which is great except I don’t even know who some of them are. The other day the family hard-drive had a near-death experience and there was pandemonium.

But what is the impact of all this communicating on our work, our families and friends, and the wider community? Are we more in control of our lives as a result? What do we like and don’t like about it?

I’d like to pose a couple of questions that I’m hoping you can think about and provide your thoughts. What is the single most profound impact that the internet and mobiles have had on our society and you personally? Do you think there is a need for a new digital social etiquette and, if so, what are the most important things it should cover?

I hope we can have an open and thought provoking online dialogue about these questions and I really value your input. I look forward to reading your comments.

The new digital social etiquette and some interesting digital facts?

We know telecommunications is impacting families, communities, marketplaces and workplaces. In all these environments people are increasingly using new languages, having new expectations and working within the bounds of new rules, values and social norms.

There is a new digital social etiquette being developed about how to behave and not to behave in these environments. Sometimes this social digital etiquette is a straight transfer from the offline world. Often it has come about in a somewhat haphazard and adhoc way, unrestrained by traditional rules … and sometimes this is part of the attraction. And on other occasions brand new rules and norms have had to be developed to address issues that are uniquely online.

In terms of some interesting digital facts, consider:

  • Globally, approximately 247 billion emails are sent each day.
  • This year there will be 4.3 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, growing to 5.8 billion in 2013. India alone added 14.4 million new mobile subscribers in July 2009, bringing their total number of mobile subscribers in the country to 442 million.
  • The number of interactions we have on the Telstra network has grown fivefold in the past 6 years … wireless Internet is doubling every year and traffic on our mobile network is doubling every 13 months.
  • There are 5M Twitter users in Australia and if Facebook (with about 300M members) were a country, it would rank as the world’s 4th most populated country.
  • One quarter of Australian adults who are online create their own content and approximately two-thirds of Australian mothers contact their immediate family via online social networking at least once a day (23.9%) or at least once a week (40.6%).
  • 80%+ of businesses are using the internet to support their business activity in Australia.