Michael Powell and the new Homo Digiteus Species
Michael Powell, former chairman of the FCC and current Cisco board member, visited our product development leadership offsite earlier this week. He spoke about the broad impact of computer and communications technology on society, often illustrating with examples from his two sons. Adopting the tone of an amazed and amused scientist, he described them as members of a new species, homo digiteus, whose life-long experience with technology creates expectations of connection, personalization and interactivity. For example, his son Bryan explains he doesn’t like television because “it doesn’t DO anything,” so instead he surfs the Internet, plays a digital game, or text-messages friends.Powell also commented about his time in public service, mostly positive about the privilege of serving the American people, although ruefully recalling the “wardrobe malfunction” controversy of the 2004 Superbowl halftime show. As you’d expect, Powell favors limiting government intervention in the technology marketplace, and argued cogently for organizing communications regulation away from access technology (coaxial cable, copper pairs) and towards the services offered (television, telephony). This change makes sense, as cable companies add voice and telephone companies add video. Though covering familiar ground, Powell’s speech wove together many threads of technology in society, an impressive display of broad synthesis. His polished public speaking prompted a standing ovation from the Cisco engineering leadership, usually a skeptical and judgmental bunch. My personal connection to Michael Powell comes through my wife, Katherine. Her father served in the Army at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, at the same time as Michael’s father, Colin Powell. At the end of his speech, when he paused for questions, I considered asking if he remembered playing in the creek with Kathy Broome. But then I decided that might stray too far off topic for most of the audience.