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Posted: April 21, 2014

The futurist: The “Great Barrier Backlash”

Exposing the ethical gray zone

Thomas Frey

My wife Deb and I just returned from a weeklong trip to South Korea where much of our travel inside the country involved riding on the high-speed KTX Train (Korean Transit eXpress) from city to city.

The train is designed for speeds up to 350 km/h (217 mph), but currently tops out at 190 mph. Our final trip from Changwon City in the southern tip of Korea to Seoul in the far north took just three hours.

The entire country is 20 percent smaller than my home state of Colorado, but has a population of more than 50 million people, greater than California, Arizona and Colorado combined.

KTX trains are amazingly efficient with each stop lasting only 3-5 minutes and hundreds of people getting on and off at each stop. Compared to the nightmare that airports have become, where the minimum time between a plane landing and takeoff is well over an hour, and highways that slow to a crawl during most of the day, these trains are breaking down barriers of time and distance all across Korea.

Next month, KTX will connect Seoul’s Incheon Airport with the rest of its network.

Their system works because it has broken down all the barriers – no security lines, no stoplights, no traffic cops, no passport checks or customs stations, just lightning fast trains.

In addition to high-speed trains, they are known for their high-speed networks. South Korea is also rolling out a 5G network in 2017, which is 1,000 times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks

Yes, it helps to be a small country geographically. But pushing the limits on both transportation and Internet speeds, combined with reducing barriers along the way, makes for a potent combination.

Here’s why global competitiveness and emerging technology are forcing the hands of nearly every country to rid themselves of unnecessary barriers, something I call the "Great Barrier Backlash":

Waging War Against Traps 

In 1997, Reed Hasting returned his copy of Apollo 13 to the video store and was hit with a late fee so big that he was embarrassed to tell his wife about it. Out of this moment of humiliation the idea for Netflix was born, a business that would eventually take down the entire video rental industry, and its excessive fee-charging practices in the process.

If I’m staying in a hotel room, I don't mind paying mini-bar rates for water and snacks if I know what they cost. I do mind if I drink a bottle of water that I assumed was complementary, only to be tagged with an $8 fee upon checkout. 

Most hotels have eliminated sneaky little traps like this in favor of well-posted menus listing all the prices, but many other industries have not. 

Credit card companies and banks are notorious for their late payment fees, over limit fees, overdraft fees, and anything else they can find to stack the deck in their favor.

Telecom companies have long hidden sinister fee-traps throughout their networks with the most egregious being the roaming charges that get imposed when traveling abroad.

Even government agencies have bought into this line of thinking, imposing penalties on everything from late tax filings, to wrong-day watering fines, to late utility fees, to parking fines.

In the U.S., penalty traps have become a form of debtor prisons for those unable to comply with the demands of the system. With much of their income being taken from them, they have been reduced to a life of poverty.

The Great Awareness Shift

Today, many young entrepreneurs are looking at the excessive fee-charging practices of business and government with the same kind of righteous anger and opportunistic eyes that motivated Reed Hastings.

As our online communities continue to raise awareness all around the world, those operating within what is considered a legal but ethical grey zone will find themselves increasingly exposed to public angst.

Here are a few examples that come to mind:

  • Cities that are overly aggressive in issuing speeding and parking tickets will find themselves cast into a social media “no-travel zone.” Both shoppers and travelers will go out of their way to avoid what they construe as a form of visitor harassment. Overall cost to the city in the form of lost revenue will be far greater than what is charged through its penalties.

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Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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