"I'll find your missing children..."
by Sam North

Were you thinking that all this new media technology needed actual people?


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I'm pretty sure this happens to everyone else now. This morning I had 74 e-mails. Only one was actually for me. Not that I am disparaging those who sell Viagra, or insist that I would want to look at hot sex at 9 am, no thanks, but a good cup of coffee would be nice. I am sure the people who want to make my life 'debt free' are genuine, as are credit cards for 2% and the HUGE deal for profits in China, just offered two minutes ago. I could do with the Last Minute holiday, if I didn't already know that when you try to get them they don't actually exist anymore and I am positive I'd call the number offered to 'find my missing children' if I had any. Of course I may need to use the 'impending divorce' service and of course, 'you never have enough insurance.'

I resist, I don't want it, never have, but there it is, everyday and I have to spend minutes deleting them. But this is only the beginning. When everyone has a WAP phone with email and browsing facilities (hopefully running at speed) the critical mass for junk will be a torrent around the world unless you have filters.

The rush for e-commerce highlands is at its Klondike best at the moment. The hills are full of men and women getting rich off the backs of those doing the digging. Sure, perhaps this time we aren't leeching dangerous chemicals into the rivers, but don't tell me we aren't polluting something, even if it is only our minds.

E-commerce is a gold rush, but where may I ask is the gold? Shares I understand, junk e-mails I understand, kids with 100 million to spend on an apartment I can fathom, but where is the gold, the hard stuff, the tangible?

Worse e-commerce is about to be supplanted by m-commerce. Yes, the e is going mobile. The phone will be the home for everything you do in your life and they are going to come at you with push technology as fast as they can.

The future is the web on your TV and the phone in your web. The phone will do everything former TV could do and be totally mobile. The m-world will be where your work and your money is and we'll get our news from there, vote, do the lottery, you name it and you'll probably want to kill yourself if you lose it. 'Phone-loss' trauma will be a major cause of social distress.

How will life be? Just check your messages. Somewhere in your daily junk mail will be a congratulations note that you have been awarded a one-month contract to do a job and you'll be so happy you'll forget that these jobs used to be one year contracts and before that jobs for life.

The whole western world is moving towards short contracts and with it employee loyalty and goodwill. I have bad news for you. The smile you get when you get your morning coffee at Starbucks may not be genuine. Which is why the guys making money are the ones who are developing genuinely human and friendly voice-software to lull you into buying stuff over the phone. Some nicely modulated voice that implies more than it is giving. 'We know what kind of voice youšll trust'. Scared. You should be. Were you thinking that all this new media technology needed actual people?

Right now a number of people are pretty amazed that things haven't crashed yet. , but the stockmarket continues to defy all odds, with only little blips of warnings on the way. Some now say it is too big to fail, which is a warning signal all of itself. But companies that actually make something we drive or eat or wear or clean with are a stockmarket joke. Companies that actually employ people and make profits are derided. They have been bounced out of the top 100 share index by internet companies, halo stocks that promise fortunes to investors but have a long way to go before they generate cash. In fact they are bleeding money as they desperately try to market their way to market awareness.

It is as if only the 100-1 shots are winning at the track now. But as a former gambler myself, I know one thing for sure. If more than one total outsider winds in a days meeting, either the weather is wrong or there is a fix and you stop betting. You are not going to win. Right now, the outsiders are winning all the races and the horses that have been trained and carrying with the best jockeys on them with the track record of success, might as well go home.

Obviously some stocks like Vodaphone are worth something. They are real, they are providing a service people want. But I'd rather have Nokia, who actually manufacture what Vodaphone customers want. But even then, Finland's stock market is very vulnerable. Nokia represents something like 75% of that total market there. A real eggs-in-one basket place.

But what of companies value at millions who don't actually deliver much or make anything? boo.com or bol.com or Egg? boo spent nearly a million advertising itself and is getting little penetration of the internet buyers market, bol just can't compete with Amazon in delivery, stock or style and Egg is a company (albeit with Prudentials' pockets) offering a great savings rate and a wonderful credit card, but so far, and I have asked, no one I know can get to the last page when you apply for the card on line, it always locks you out when you try to submit.

Right now the internet is about to get pretty hot in the UK. There is a battle raging for who will survive as the key portal. Alta Vista laid down the first gauntlet and now NTL have responded, both promising to provide virtually free internet access, all the time for a nominal sign up fee. No doubt Freeserve will have to live up to its name pretty soon. But will they penalise you if you surf outside their range of provided links? If you read something, like this magazine, will they disconnect you after five minutes if you are reading , not surfing, which is what Alta Vista have stated they will do.

Currently it is estimated 12 million people surf in the UK regularly ( BBC News) With free usage it could rise to 18 million over two years and then sort of plateau at 23/24 million. Roughly half the population will be web and e-mail connected and many of them will be using their phone to do this within this period; not their Apple or PC. In fact, many will move to an all digital service via their TV and there is a huge pent-up demand for this in 80 percent of all UK homes. No need to prove it. Fully 90 percent of UK homes have a TV. It is no stretch to predict that we will all go digital if our phone and TV can be web connected cheaply.

What's on TV will hardly matter anymore. You'll have web TV on your phone and TV, bypassing the former terrestrial services. At the Production Show in Olympia this week predictions were that web TV and phones will have 125,000 possible sources of TV channels to watch someday, from short films to 24 hours chat, or news, or goldfish swimming around a bowl.

So what happens to advertising revenue on the terrestrial channels? Will all these new free web users be buying on line? It's pretty likely, judging from last weeks bloc survey, that they will. What happens then when 24 million people plus (including their families) are buying on-line? Chatting on-line, gaming on-line. They'll be able to do this on the move from their phone and there goes the argument about static on-line stay at homes pigging out on pizza.

The modern phone shopper will be able to see the things they like in shops and comparison shop on-line, order it from wherever, immediately, or bargain with the retailer on the spot. Sell it to me at this price or lose the deal. The politics of the Bazaar will be realtime.

Some people talk about the deconstruction of the high street, but I think comparison shopping will save it. The phone will set us free from the desk. M-commerce will be a real revolution. But e-jobs, e-culture will change everything. We are headed for this temporary, ever-changing uncertain employment world. Many e-jobs aren't fun or highly paid. Ask Amazon or Bol on-line workers if they are happy. OK they can think of their stock options, but arenšt they where Douglas Coupland's 'Microserfs' were at Microsoft in 1994. Happiness comes only from checking the stock price every two hours. Will everyone have stock options? John Lewis Group has done this for years, but this was to keep employees loyal. E-and m-commerce companies aren't interested in job loyalties, they want you in and out of the place, job done in a short as time as possible. You pay for your own time off.

For some, the mobile phone users will be the smokers of this century - confined to phone only sections of restaurants. But in a hands free phone culture, perhaps we will all get used to talking to thin air?

So is there going to be an e-crash?

Well until recently when free access became part of the culture in the UK I would have said yes, but right now, if NTL and Alta Vista play it right, then e- and m-commerce is about to explode here. What it comes down to is what companies are providing, how good the service is, how sustainable the concept is and how different or easier it is to use than the high street.

There may well be a liquidity crunch coming for many start-ups and major players, many will be swallowed by others, but with free access, the web is going to going into warp drive in the UK economy. All bets are off. Buy, buy, buy ....


By the by, if it all goes sour don't blame me.
Prediction: The Europeans will buy up everything and will end up working for someone in Paris. It's the way you know.

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