In 1985 American adults typically had one phone number for the house and one for work. By 2004, many techsavvy Americans had added such alternate communications as a cell phone, a fax line, an instant messaging account, an e-mail address for business, another for home, and still another to ward off spam. Communication has undeniably been one of the central motivations behind the technical strides that have taken place since the beginning of the cold war. The Internet was first conceived as a way of connecting computers for the purpose of communication, and e-mail was the first application to gain acceptance and widespread use on the Internet. In Spam: How It Is Hurting Email and Degrading Life on the Internet (Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project, October 2003), researcher Deborah Fallows reported that nearly thirty billion e-mails were flying across the Internet on a given day. When looking at what activities online Americans participate in the most on a daily basis, e-mail generally beats out every other activity two to one. That does not even take into account the nearly fifty-four million Americans who reported using instant messaging in 2003.
The Internet is not the only communications system to flourish. Since the early 1980s an entirely new phone system has sprung up across America as well. Table 2.1 reveals that the number of cellular sites in the United States grew from 5,616 sites to 139,338 sites between 1990 and 2002, and the amount of revenue brought in by the cellular phone system rose from $4.5 billion to $76.5 billion. The number of cell phone subscribers jumped from 5.3 million subscriptions in 1990 to 33 million in 1998 to approximately 140 million subscribers in 2002. In terms of percentage, the rise in cell phone customers outstripped the increase in Internet customers and was roughly equivalent to the rise in home computers since the early 1980s.
In some ways these new forms of communication have made life easier. Most Americans no longer have to hunt down a phone booth and dig for change when searching for that elusive restaurant. Nor do most travelers have to worry about being stranded on a deserted roadway miles from a phone. Using e-mail, online Americans can now easily stay in touch with anyone in any country around the world. At the same time, however, Americans now have to comb through offensive spam on a daily basis, concern themselves with unleashing viruses on the computer, and endure annoying cell phone chimes everywhere they go.