Telecommunication-Transportation Tradeoffs Revisited

In the 1970s, Jack Nilles pioneered research on the impact of telecommunications on transportation. He sought to design approaches to reducing travel through the created use of more decentralized work practices, enabled by telecommunications. (Nilles, J.M., et al (1977). The telecommunication transportation tradeoff. New York: John Wiley & Sons.) Most studies at the time, and since, have failed to find telecommunications substituting for travel. In fact, it has been the opposite — telecommunications is often highly correlated with travel and vice versa. We communicate with people online, for example, before and after we visit them.

However, the fact that there has not been a deterministic effect of telecommunications on travel does not mean that this substitute could not emerge. It is a matter of management policy, not technological impact. With technical infrastructures in place to support electronic communication from anywhere to anywhere at any time, it might well be that we are in a context in which management policies could put the telecommunication-transportation tradeoff in place.

For example, should the OII open our video conferencing facilities for those university colleagues who can demonstrate that it will reduce their travel?

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