FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Why Do So Few Americans Use Mobile Internet?

Long heralded as the "next big thing" in Internet access, mobile Internet (that is to say, accessing the Net through cell phones and other non-PC devices) has yet to catch on big in the US. As of June 2006, 34.6 million US mobile phone users accessed the Web through their mobile devices, according to a recent study. That's only 16% of all American cell phone subscribers.

So why the low figure, especially since mobile Internet use in Europe and Asia is substantially higher? It's not from lack of hardware; the study found that 81% of US cell phone users have Web-capable cell phones. One explanation is that there is little incentive from mobile carriers for content providers to develop and offer original mobile content. Many users are locked into limited amount of content built into the carriers' browsers; external sites can be accessed, but typically they render poorly in a mobile format, if at all.

The most popular uses for mobile Internet access in the US are for news, weather and sports updates. Not surprisingly, users in the 18-26-year-old age bracket are the most aggressive mobile Internet users, making up nearly half the US mobile web population.

Source: eMarketer

New Orleans' Shrinking Phone Book

The phone book has been around nearly as long as the telephone itself. And with 411 and the Web, phone books sometimes seem to be an archaic and obsolete medium. But there are times when such an artifact can poignantly illustrate changing times and point the way to future trends.

Nearly a year after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, new phone books are being distributed throughout New Orleans. This year's edition, however, is notably smaller than those from previous years, reflecting the city's shrunken population. The yellow and white pages have been combined into one volume; many of the most prominent yellow page ads are for contractors, electricians and roofers, while ads for sellers of luxury goods have declined.

Currently, New Orleans holds only 45% of its pre-Katrina population of 485,000, and only 47% of homes have had electric service restored.

Source: MSNBC

Pluto No Longer a Planet

It's a dark day for fans of Pluto, the ninth and most distant planet from the sun. Or, rather, former planet.

Today, after days of debating what exactly constitutes a planet, the International Astronomical Union revoked Pluto's planetary status, saying it does not meet the new definition of a planet: "a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit." Not to mention Pluto's oblong orbit that sometimes goes within that of Neptune.

Pluto, discovered in 1930, is now bumped to the celestial minor leagues in the category of "dwarf planets," which will include the large asteroid Ceres (which was also once considered a planet) and the newly discovered 2003 UB313 (a.k.a. Xena). It could be worse: the IAU has designated a third, even lesser category called "small solar system bodies" that covers asteroids and comets.

Source: AP (via Yahoo)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Turner to Edit Smoking Scenes from Classic Cartoons

Perhaps nothing illustrates changing attitudes about smoking more than the recent decision by Turner Broadcasting to edit out smoking scenes from the 1,500+ classic cartoons in its catalog.

Prompted by viewer complaints, Turner will edit or modify scenes in which smoking is glamourized. Scenes showing villains smoking, however, would be left intact.

The move is not without controversy, as fans and purists contend that the smoking scenes must be appreciated in the context of the era when the cartoons were made (the 1940s through the 1960s), when smoking was far more socially acceptable. Others, though, note that the majority of those who watch these cartoons are children, who should not be given any message that smoking is "cool."

The cartoons in Turner's holdings include such favorites as Tom and Jerry, Scooby-Doo, and The Flinstones.

Source: Reuters (via AOL)

One Third of World's Population Face Water Shortages

Scientists predicted several years ago that a third of the earth's population would face water scarcity by 2025... but it appears that we have already reached that point.

Natural forces, overuse and resource mismanagement have contributed to a quarter of the world living in areas of "physical water shortage," where water simply doesn't exist. Others live in areas of "economic water shortage," in which water exist but people don't have the means to access it, either because of poverty or dysfunctional governments.

Either way, continued water shortages will have a cascade effect in the coming years as lack of water leads to reduced crop output and food production, sanitation problems and conflicts between nations.

Source: Financial Times

Monday, August 21, 2006

Are Consumers Experiencing "Tech Fatigue"?

Possible bad news for the consumer tech industry headed into the 2006 holiday season: Consumers appear to be experiencing a level of "tech fatigue," failing to embrace product updates that don't offer dramatic benefits or greater ease of use. A case in point is apparent growing frustration with iPods, especially their hard-to-replace batteries and difficulties with iTunes.

With signs pointing to a slower economy, consumers seem to be waiting for major innovations to come out of the tech sector, and are satisfied with the technologies they have that are reliable, easy to use and provide clear value.

Source: Zandl Group

Friday, August 18, 2006

Advertisers Could Triple Product Placements by 2010

The rise of DVRs that allow viewers to skip over TV commercials, combined with a growth in advertising-free media, is driving advertisers to increase the amount of product placements in TV programs. PQ Media, a marketing research firm, believes that the amount spent on product placements -- in which advertisers pay to have their products displayed and used by characters on the shows -- will rise from $2.2 billion in 2005 to $7.6 billion by 2010.

Currently, the US is the leader in product placement advertising, followed by Brazil, Australia, France and Japan. China could also become a leader in product placement advertising in the years to come as its media become more sophisticated and open.

Source: BBC

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Experts: NE Hurricane Could Cripple Region, US Economy

Meteorologists believe that weather patterns during this hurricane season could spawn a storm that could strike the northeast coast of the US. And if that happened, the consequences would be devastating.

In a recent meeting between hurricane experts and insurance representatives, attendees heard that a hurricane of category 3 strength or higher making landfall in central New Jersey (and nearby Manhattan) could cause upwards of $200 billion in damage to some of the nation's most valuable real estate. Not to mention countless lives shattered and lost, and the colossal economic disruption caused by effectively shutting down the world's most important business center for days or even weeks.

Such a disaster would be the largest in American history -- twice as great as 9/11 and three times that of Hurricane Katrina. Some in the insurance industry concede that much of the destruction would not be covered by insurance, and speculate that the US economy might take years or even decades to recover. Worst of all, few people and municipalities in the northeastern US are prepared for a hurricane.

If warmer weather increases the likelihood of powerful hurricanes reaching the Northeast, global warming may well make them an ongoing threat, just as they are in Florida and the Gulf Coast.

Source: CBS News