Elka Popova's Blog

Living in a Flatter World: Benefits and Pitfalls

21 Jan 2013 | by Elka Popova
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In a previous blog post, I talked about the role of social media in creating new beliefs and behavioral patterns. Here I’d like to talk about how social media is making our world flatter and what that means for individuals and society.

The “flattening of the world” refers to the gradual disappearing of geographic limitations and the leveling of the playing field in the search for unique talent, job opportunities, and new markets. It also refers to the ability to connect more frequently, easily, and inexpensively with family, friends, and business associates.

Pervasive Internet connectivity, growth of mobile and IP communications, and the rise of social media and social networking have made the world “flatter.” While the flattening of the world is not solely the result of ICT developments, this is one case where technology trends have had a profound impact on society, including both personal lifestyles and business relationships.

Overall, the flattening of the world is driving personal, business, and macro-economic prosperity.

Frost & Sullivan predicts that by 2020, there will be 10 connected devices for every household, five connected devices for every person, five billion Internet users, and 500 devices with unique digital IDs per square kilometer.

This explosion of connected devices has positive and negative consequences. On the positive side, people can more easily access and share information, knowledge, and expertise, thus accelerating innovation; driving economic growth and improving living standards in parts of the globe that were previously unable to benefit from economic advancements in other countries; creating new education opportunities; and contributing to improved international relations.

On a personal level, UCC advancements have enabled individuals to enjoy more flexible working hours and blend personal and work lives, as they are now able to work from anywhere. They have also enabled society to better handle issues such as elderly isolation and the disintegration of the extended family.

However, one negative side effect of ubiquitous connectivity and the proliferation of communications and collaboration tools is over-connectedness and information overload. Greater availability to perform job tasks any time, anywhere, has made it difficult for some to effectively balance work and personal life.

Furthermore, convenient and inexpensive access to abundant information presents new challenges. Users need new tools to sort, analyze, and leverage the various pieces of data that are now available to them. Therefore, data analytics represents the next frontier of technology innovation to help turn informational chaos into well-organized repositories of useful data.

Abundant data, faster communications, and easier information exchange can arguably hurt opportunities for profit generation as well. Markets are becoming more efficient, which typically shrinks profit margins.

However, human ability to process information is relatively limited. Also, in spite of continued advancements in data analytics, there are no tools sophisticated enough to analyze and disseminate information instantaneously. As a result, opportunities for excessive profits exist, but they will be short-lived and limited to rare pockets of disruptive and transformational innovation.

Another big challenge in a flatter world is the narrowing boundaries of privacy. As individuals become increasingly exposed through social media and various Internet transactions, multiple parties can now access extensive details about their demographics, economic status, tastes, and preferences, and then analyze and predict their behavior.

Opportunities exist for UCC technologies to further flatten the world. But there are also opportunities for UCC vendors to provide unique customer value by enabling users to more effectively control their availability and privacy and sort through large amounts of data.