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I remember the good old days when I used to go out to dinner with friends, and all we did was talk about the most mundane topics.  We would talk about girls, making inappropriate jokes, and debate which Super Smash Bros. character was the most O.P. (over powerful).  Nowadays, I can hardly have a meal with people without at least one person browsing Facebook or Twitter from their phone.  I admit that even I have committed this travesty before.  But since when did social media and technology replace human interaction?

Countless experts have debated this, experts far more intelligent than I am.  They will whip out their graphs, data, and number that prove this and that, but all of it is technical jargon to me.  At then of they day, I believe this social trend of “Facebook first, friends second” comes down to two key reasons.  First, the advent of the smart phone.  Second, the roll out of LTE networks, also known as true 4G.

When the iPhone came out what feels like years ago (in actuality only 6), social media arguably experienced its biggest revolution.  People gained the ability to view their social networks from their hands wherever they went, whenever they wanted.  Smartphones empowered the everyday person.  While many will argue that the advent of the smartphone is the source of all our social frustrations in real life settings today, I think smartphones have played a supporting role.

The true criminal at act here is LTE.  LTE, in my opinion, has completely changed the way we interact.  The downloading speeds users can achieve over LTE is mind boggling.  For many customers, LTE will generate a comparable speed to Wi-Fi, if not faster, depending on location, carrier, and what type of Wi-Fi is used.  Personally, when I was in New York City, I would turn off Wi-Fi for my iPhone 5 because LTE provided a more stable, faster connection.  Overall, the point I am trying to make is that LTE is fast.  Extremely fast.

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Image courtesy of Flickr user Bev Goodman.

So what does this have to do with using social media on phones when hanging out with friends instead of interacting with them?  Well, LTE is so fast that browsing Facebook over an iPhone 5 or a Samsung Galaxy S4 is practically no different than doing so over a computer (discounting the difference in interfaces).  We are essentially getting the same experience as if we were sitting at our desk in our bedrooms stalking friends.  Don’t get me the wrong – the advent of smartphones provided us the medium to do this.  However, LTE has given us the speed and efficiency that 3G never could.  As stated in the previous link, 3G pulled average download speeds of 1.5 Mb/s and even failed the upload test!  When I had my iPhone 3G and 4, I never browsed Facebook when I was with my friends because my phone was just too damn slow.  It was not worth waiting 10 seconds to open up a friend’s page to comment on their wall.

Of course all of this is a testament to an even greater social shift – that people just love social media, especially Facebook.  In the end, smartphones and LTE are merely tools that we take advantage of.  They bring out the inner Facebook stalker in us.  While this has been a major problem in the U.S., I have noticed that this phenomenon is not as prevalent in the Czech Republic and the rest of Central Europe.  This brings me back to LTE.  People have access to smartphones here but not to LTE.  At least not until recently.  A recent article reported that three Czech mobile operators (T-Mobile, O2, and Vodafone) have started offering LTE services and are engaging in an upcoming spectrum auction.  For those who do not know, spectrum is essentially what enables operators to provide mobile services.  More spectrum means more LTE.  It is clear that while late to the party, Central Europe is joining the mobile fray.

This leads me to wonder, now that people will have access to both smartphones and LTE, will social media begin to replace human interaction like it has in the U.S.?  Will a Czech guy be posting on his friend’s Timeline when said friend is across the table?  No matter how much I want to believe, it is hard to imagine that any country with iPhones and LTE avoiding a similar fate.  But then again, social media is not as big as it is here than in the U.S.; Twitter is not nearly as popular in the Czech Republic.  At the end of the day, I have no idea how the roll out of LTE will impact the Czech Republic.  I have faith in the Czech people, but I’ll leave the rest to the experts.  The ones far more intelligent than I am.

Feature image courtesy of Flickr user danielfoster437.

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2 thoughts on “LTE: A Premonition of Disaster?

  1. Kevin, I don’t pretend to be “far more intelligent” than you are; but I’d like to take a stab at your question anyway. I think what we are seeing in the Czech Republic is an inevitable chicken-or-egg scenario in which it’s hard to say what will come first: social media engagement within a majority of the population, or a mass adoption of smartphone LTE technology. Undoubtedly, each of these factors has influence over the other, and it is possible that the interaction between the two might eventually lead to the same social norms that you are frustrated by in the US.

    However, before we can try to predict how common mobile social media will become in the Czech Republic, I think it’s important to understand the nation’s current position within the smartphone and social media spheres. According to an article by the European Travel Commission, a lowly 24% of Czech adults use social media. In terms of smartphone usage, the Czech Republic’s totals are among Europe’s lowest, at only 17% of the population. If you compare these figures with those of the United States, the disparity is staggering: according to a Nielsen Mobile Survey, over 64% of Americans use smartphones and 72% of American adults use social media on a daily basis.

    Looking at these numbers in context, it becomes easier to paint a picture of how this mobile social media trend might unfold in the Czech Republic. Consider that when LTE was first introduced into the US last year, a vast majority of Americans were already onboard with smartphone technology. In contrast, the emergence of 4G technology within the Czech Republic will cater to just a small sliver of the country’s population. Perhaps equally revealing is that LTE technology has not increased smartphone usage by a statistically significant amount in the US. What it has done, however, is make mobile social media usage more convenient. With this in mind, I am skeptical that this new technology could spur a greater attraction to smartphones in the Czech Republic, but I do think that 4G, once adopted, will contribute to a much greater mobile social media usage.

    Taking this a bit further, I think LTE technology will initially cater to the country’s elite smartphone-wielding demographic and leave the rest of the nation untouched. Moreover, the same people that make up this elite demographic also happen to be the largest contributors to social media networks within the Czech Republic. Consequently, the transition to mobile social media should happen naturally, once this consumer group transitions from a traditional 3G network to the faster, more convenient 4G LTE service.

    Nevertheless, I believe that this transition will be limited to the country’s elite demographic, at least until larger cultural shifts act as further impetus for more people to adopt the technology. Even in America, a country with a known consumerist culture, deterrents such as lower household incomes, age discrepancies, and technology resistance have made mobile social media usage either unavailable or unattractive to a significant chunk of the population. In truth, the very scene you described- friends out to dinner, who can’t stay away from their smartphones- is relatively unique to our own demographic of young, urban, middle class people. In the Czech Republic, similar cultural and demographic-related challenges will have to be overcome before we start to see a wider percentage of the population engaging in social media through mobile platforms. Now, how long will it take before this trend starts to become noticeable? I have no idea. For that, we should probably find an expert.

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