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Communications technology update.

Communications technology update

What happened to the prediction that the Internet would break the stranglehold held by undemocratic leaders over communication systems in their countries? Dickie (Financial Times, 13 Nov 2007) reports that, as far as China is concerned, Communist leaders have found a range of ways of censoring what appears on websites and e-mails.

First, technology enabling more effective censorship has developed in line with the advances in communication technology itself. The Chinese authorities leave much of this ‘routine’ censorship to the internet service providers and suppliers of content.

Secondly, the Government has laid down what is and is not permissible on the internet, and established strict penalties for flouting these rules. Thousands have been imprisoned for posting political writings online – a situation that, of course, encourages people to censor themselves.

It would be easy for Western authorities to ‘tut-tut’ on the sidelines over such obviously anti-democratic tendencies. But as Dickie points out, Western capital markets fund the local enterprises that make the censorship system work. And keen to sign lucrative contracts in the world’s most populous state, Western multinationals have ensured that their technology complies with the demands of China’s rulers. All of this raises deep moral issues for the West.

A second morally dubious area is internet dating, which has overtaken pornography as one of the most profitable web-based services. The ‘dismal science’ of economics views dating and marriage as taking place in a ‘marketplace’ where supply, demand and competition exist. In The Logic of Life: Uncovering the New Economics of Everything, Tim Harford demonstrates that men attract a lot of replies if they claim, in their internet-dating advertisements, that their income is high. For women, in contrast, the opposite is true. He concludes: ‘It is official: rich men are a turn-on and rich women are a turn-off.’

Harford does not deny that true love exists. He argues, however, that lovers are well aware of the opportunities that lie ahead of them and rationally take them into account when dating.

Fletcher and Light (International Journal of Information Management, Dec 2007) emphasize the links between sexualities, technologies and cultures in order to demonstrate the value of, and need for, greater attention to sexuality in information-systems research.

Mobile telephony also has an important role to play in the modern dating game. It is not by accident that a current TV advertisement shows a mobile telephone being used to download a film review, find out the cinemas at which the film is being screened, obtain directions to the nearest one and send the whole package to a friend.

Simms (Marketing, 7 Nov 2007) points out that this type of commercial is being used to persuade people to use their mobile phones for more than simply making calls and sending text messages, but customers have been slow to embrace these additional possibilities.

The mobile market, it seems, has become bland. The big three players are essentially selling a commodity and are now distinguished principally by their brand colour. Simms remarks that Orange shook up the market a decade ago with its clever advertisements and distinctive service-based positioning, but has now lost its sparkle and needs to find a new voice in a homogeneous sector.