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14 January 2009

Telephones are Absurd

"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication."
Western Union memo, 1876

Not only did the landline telephone revolutionize communication after being patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, a recent study now reveals that 3 out of 10 people receive all of their telephone calls on their cell phone and nearly 8 out 10 of all Americans carry a cell phone.

After all, almost 20% of US households only have cellphones, with no landlines whatsoever. That marks a 2% increase since last year. Aren't we glad some people embraced innovation?

The National Health Interview Survey, conducted by the CDC also found that:

  • Low-income people are likelier than the more affluent to have only cell phones.

  • About a third of those under age 30 only have cell phones.

  • Households with both cell and landline phones who rarely or never get calls on their landlines tend to be better educated and have higher incomes.

  • About 2 percent of households reported having no telephones.

How was this information gathered? In person of course, since pollsters are largely prohibited by federal law to call cell phones unsolicited. Such irony.

So what is up with those sage prognosticators at Western Union these days? As can be predicted, companies that take such a narrow view of innovation do not progress too far. I find it remarkable that the company with virtually the only means of communication since 1851 (telegrams) and the industrialized monopoly to go with it, did not parlay that market presence into the next generation of communication. It was their game to lose. And of course lose out they did. After hemorrhaging money and gathering debt for years due to their continued investment in under performing businesses, they shuttered all of their interests and started focusing on sending money out of the country. Remember their ad?: "The fastest way to send money...worldwide".

They crept their original mission of relaying messages between faraway people in faraway places to relaying money between faraway people in faraway places. Or more specifically, between the US and Central America.

Western Union currently does about $4 Billion US in revenue each year. As mentioned, The bulk of that is from remittances from the US back to Mexico. US citizens can therefore be assured that Western Union is actively or passively lobbying to keep illegal aliens alive and well in this country. In fact they proudly boast the following:

"Our citizenship efforts help to amplify the impact of remittances, a powerful force for social good".

Whose "social good" though? If you are in Mexico, you love what Western Union does because they bring money (remittances) into your country faster. If you are a host country, then it is insane to think that funnelling money out of your society without reciprocity is a good thing. And even some of their very own remittance sending patrons agree. In late 2007, an immigrant rights group initiated a boycott against Western Union claiming that they were be charged too much to send their money back home.

To make nice and to protect their nut, Western Union established several grant programs whereby they are "devoted to empowering the people and communities we serve". While their community programs are purported to being worldwide, each of their reported community partnerships consist of Mexican interests. They even give money to an organization in Mexico that helps Mexicans start their own business. Really?? Look no further than the Billions of dollars in US to Mexico remittances as the source of capital for these Mexican start-ups.

Global citizenship is important, without a doubt. Let's just not be fooled however by the self sustaining, self serving methods of companies like Western Union who are doing more to erode our country's infrastructure than they are in strengthening it.

Let's recap this trail of Absurdity: An American Company, who should have been out of business years ago, is now solely focused on expediting US currency out of this country, which hurts our economy and reinforces illegal immigration (and yes permissible and legal immigration too). The immigrants (legal and illegal) have now banded together to demand the right to not pay too much to this American company so they can send even more money back to their home country. The company acquiesced and not only lowered their money transfer rates but also is now sending some of their own corporate foundation money to these foreign countries to help build their infrastructure and to increase the demand for more remittances. Wow!

Viva la Free Enterprise!


Dana said...

Sometimes capitalism doesn't work quite the way it should. There is this whole moral issue that often gets overlooked.

Michael M. said...

Morality and business are strange bedfellows indeed. Like in our Part 1 of "Advertising is Absurd", some companies seem to have the institutional moral compass pointed in the right direction. Many though, not so much. The BBB can't even be relied upon as an unbiased arbiter of truth anymore either. What is one to do?