Partners - Stock market, economic and political commentary by Patricia Chadwick

Out of the ashes

Cell phones were the only means of communication for those on the hijacked airplanes and for many trying to escape the World Trade Center on September 11. However, after the collapse of the twin towers (and for hours and even days after), communication by cell phone and telephone in and around New York City became difficult to near impossible, as all the lines were jammed with millions of callers.

However, what did work was the Internet. A friend of mine who works on Wall Street emailed – by rim pager — his father-in-law in Moscow to let him know he was okay, and received an immediate email back.

There were hundreds of thousands of people who for days communicated solely via the Internet. And therein lies one of the likely sources of growth from out of the ashes of this tragedy. Internet saturation is 50% of the population, and it is likely to surge considerably as people come to realize how valuable and necessary it can be. Other Internet access devices – from sophisticated rim/blackberries to low-end pagers – will surely have an even stronger growth as people and businesses focus on the need for instantaneous communication.

There is little doubt that vacation and leisure travel will be curtailed sharply in this country for at least the next year. But, importantly, too, corporations all over this country — and likely even the world — will approach the need to travel with a new wariness and apprehension. Not only will it be considered far more risky than in the past, but it will also carry new costs, in terms of both money and time, which will erode productivity.

One very obvious technology solution would be the expansion of teleconferencing and Internet conferencing. The technology exists today, but its use is minimal relative to its potential. Indeed, the current bandwidth glut could disappear. Broadband, the cable for which exists underground, can easily be brought into offices to accommodate such use. To date, it has not been a front-burner technology issue because priorities such as Y2K had to come first.

However, the tragedy of September 11 has, I believe, brought this potential very much front and center. Additionally, the use of prepaid, disposable cell phones will assuredly soar – no one will want to travel without a perpetual means of communication. Increased demand for storage and the need for redundant networks will be essential. Disaster recovery will also stimulate demand for technology, as all those firms that never felt the need for such a contingency realize its necessity.

One could make the argument that a wave of technology spending not unlike that associated with Y2K could emerge from this disaster, as companies harden their networks, protect their assets by putting data at various remote locations (backed up daily), arm all their employees with wireless devices and ultimately put everything – yes, even the telephone system — on the Internet. This could set off a chain reaction pulling us out of the recession by linking corporate and national security with productivity.


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