Monday, September 20, 2010

Disconnected with reality - phone numbers don't need to die just yet

We techies are a fun folk, but sometimes we forget that we live in a world in which billions upon billions of people don't have iPhones or use Twitter.

Chad Catacchio recently wrote a post entitled It will be hard for many, but phone numbers need to die. First, here's Chad's rationale:

Over the last decade, I’ve owned a lot of cell phones. So have lots of my friends. Sometimes when you get a new phone, you change your number, or you change your number for another reason.

Sometimes when you change your phone you don’t migrate all of your contacts over to the new phone (because there still is no perfect solution to this).

Sometimes you don’t speak to people on the phone for years, they change jobs, careers, etc, and their phone numbers change. Yes, there are solutions to all of this, but none are simple. But in this “age of the Internet”, why are we still so attached to these meaningless numbers?

Catacchio then looks at the issue from a technical perspective, and realizes that there are obstacles to overcome, but they can be overcome. For example:

I asked just this question to a Google Voice engineer during a Google event a couple of weeks ago, and he said that while it would be difficult, it could be possible (when someone at Google says “it would be difficult” you kind of have to take that at face value). Basically he said that there is no way to take the phone number out of the equation – as I said above, telephony networks need phone numbers to work. However, it could be possible for one person to enter an email address, which the calling system would then convert to a phone number to make the call, and then show the email address on the other end of the call.

Of course, this all makes sense in a world in which people have Google Voice...and have e-mail addresses. And to be fair, Catacchio realizes that this is not universally the case:

Others will point to the fact that phone numbers are such an ingrained part of world culture that they can’t disappear. Certainly in some parts of the world where Internet/mobile data access is limited or non-existent, phone numbers need to stick around at least as long as the data networks take to catch up. So I’m not expecting this to happen overnight, and like I said, it will be painful.

Pity those folks in poor undeveloped the United States of America. Yes, before you decide to convert the telephone system to an e-mail system, you might want to make sure that people can still connect. Yahoo Answers:

Since when can't you take home textbooks in public school in Washington State?

Grandkids don't have textbooks to take home for study. They have to go to a computer to do their studies. They don't own a computer.

The assumption I'm making, of course, is that the grandkids' parent(s) don't have a computer either. And while the grandkids' family may be poor, there are people who have some disposable income, but choose to use it on other things:

help us please! we are a household of 3 adults and our monthly power use is around 900kwh per month. most lightbulbs are led halogens or cfls, we don't own a computer (there is a laptop i borrow once a week). there is a 52" plasma television that gets used about 20 hours a week. we don't own: *a heatpump *any spaceheaters *a dehumidifier *a heated towel rail *a spa pool *a playstation our water is heated with a standard hot water cylinder thats 12 years old cook with a combination of induction elements and a conventional oven heat with a woodburner i've been measuring all the appliances and i can't get it to even touch that amount. the wiring on the circuit board and various switches is dodgy as hell, as the house is from the sixties and it's been chopped and changed and added to by various electricians over the years. the hot water cylinder isn't on another meter like ripplecontrol or night it's on the economy. there are two meters and switches/fuses are children of switches above them and the power supply for the meters are different. is it possible i'm being metered twice for the same power because of the dodgy wiring? but anyway, i'd like to know how many kwh your family uses. how many people. how do you heat. how do you heat your water. thanks.

If you look at the number of people without computers, the numbers are staggering. An April 2009 report included the following:

According to Nielsen’s National TV panel, around 80.6% homes in US possess a computer in their home. Around 91.6% of these households have Internet connection. This shows that there are more American homes without computers than homes having a PC without any Internet access. Thus, the major challenge in providing web access to all the Americans is the lag in PC penetration.

Even if you assume that roughly 10% of the households are accessing the Internet via non-computer devices such as iPods, that still leaves almost 10% of United States households unreachable.

Now people can't afford phones either, so many phone companies offer a lifeline service that enables such people to have phones at reduced rates. Would the phone companies agree to have a lifeline service to provide free netbooks to people so that they can access e-mail? I doubt it.
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