By paula Bernier
Alcatel-Lucent at this year’s Mobile World Congress hosted an event that went beyond your standard discussion of networks and the mobile data boom to delve into what implications wireless, the Internet and social networking do – or could – have on the way we work, live, interact and view the world.
Assembled at the event in Barcelona was a panel that brought together a wide array of opinions and interests. Included on it were Trip Adler, CEO of Scribd; Steven Berlin Johnson, an author who writes about popular culture; Keith Woolcock, co-founder of Cyke Partners; Jay Sullivan, vice president of mobile at Mozilla; Mary McDowell, executive vice president of Nokia; and Ben Verwaayen, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent.
A key part of the discussion centered on the cultural impacts of social networking.
Johnson said that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg recently said that every major industry will reorganize itself around social networking.
Verwaayen later went on to say that Alcatel-Lucent uses social networking within its organization to enable better communications. He added that: “The idea that you can simply do innovation within your four walls is dead.”
In another comment related to innovation, Woolcock noted that quite often, big change in an industry comes from outside that industry.
Indeed, it was Apple – best known for its Macintosh computers – that rocked the world of wireless with the introduction of the iPhone and the App Store. Of course, this is just one of the many disruptions that we’re seeing in our industry.
As Verwaayen noted, another disruptive force in communications is the confusion over business models as a result of over-the-top providers leveraging for free the networks of telephone companies and other service providers. (And that’s closely linked to the rise of the iPhone and App Store.) The Alcatel-Lucent chief defined a second disruptive force in the industry as the ability to “monetize your brain.”
True. The Internet has often been referred to as the great equalizer, enabling anybody with a computer and a connection to get his or her opinion heard by the masses, or some subset thereof.
The panelists touched on the fact that the Internet, mobile networks and social networking tools have been key in helping to mobilize large groups of people during the recent events in Egypt and Tunisia. More commonly, however, we use these technologies for more mundane exercises, such as to get advice on a good restaurant or to share vacation photos.
Johnson said he tweeted that he was in Barcelona this week and got a wide array of suggestions both from friends and acquaintances, and from strangers. Woolcock chimed in that social networking can be a great way to help people filter what information is important to them, and in the process avoid information overload (which can occur, for example, from arriving in a new city about which you may not have much personal knowledge).
“We live in a world of abundance, there is too much information,” said Woolcock.
And while social networking, connectivity, mobile devices, web services and apps would only seem to add to the information overload, the panel indicated these things also can make things more manageable and bring very useful data to people who might otherwise not be able to get it.
For example, McDowell talked about an SMS service Nokia supports that delivers prenatal tips to mothers-to-be in developing countries. Another service gives rural farmers crop information so they can more effectively gauge the value of their harvests, she added.
On a separate note, Adler and Johnson talked about how things like Scribd and the ability to highlight key passages within e-readers can make reading a more interactive experience. Adler added that reading has always had the potential to be a social exercise through things like reading groups. Woolcock went on to say that the Iliad and the Odyssey started out as spoken word, so the idea of putting literature within the social arena has a great history.