Communication

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Jun 252013
 

The man walking to his airport gate with a cellphone at his ear is giving final instructions to someone with a tone of importance. Sitting in the splashing jacuzzi does not deter the bathing woman from talking on hers. And even the hotel maid waiting at the bus stop for her ride to work is talking, talking, talking.

How can she afford this? Something has convinced even our lowest wage earners and their children that their phones and talking on them is a necessity of life.

Switchboard-OperatorsI can remember when placing a call in our small town meant picking up the receiver and waiting for an operator to say “number please.” The phone numbers were three digits and all calls through this operator were local. A long distance call was needed even for another town just a few miles away. For those you needed to ask for a long distance operator. The reception on longer distance calls was often marginal. And because of the costs, long distance calls were considered a luxury and used sparingly. Often they brought bad news: a relative dead or a soldier killed in action. When the phone system was upgraded to rotary dial models that needed no operator, that was high technology. It was also the end of their jobs for a lot of women.

If this sounds like along time ago, it really wasn’t. It was not so long before those days that nothing like a telephone or telegraph existed. Or railroads or automobiles. Or a postal system or newspaper with wide circulation. It is not that far from when the fastest way to spread the word was someone riding on a fast horse or running on foot if they lacked one.

The trend, the ever-accelerating trend, has been toward universal connectedness. People talking with more and more people including those farther and farther away. News arriving from more and more sources, and faster and faster. Information arrives constantly today, as does misinformation. Important information arrives along with the unimportant. The process overwhelms the content and the purpose. The process becomes an addiction.

Do we really need all the information that comes at us constantly? We thumb through a stack of magazines and find nothing at all of use or interest. We flip through a hundred channels on the TV without finding a single one we want to watch. Broadcasters try to entice us with “breaking news,” but we have grown accustomed to the fact that it is neither breaking nor news. Most times it is just the same things repeated over and over.

As a result of our constant communicating, things that would never have been heard about in previous human generations now seem close at hand. A woman raped in India, a famous person arrested somewhere, a few miners trapped, or a shooting in Texas. A clothing factory burned in Bangladesh. A newspaper cartoon deemed offensive and setting off riots far away. Suddenly the business of everyone else in the world has become our business.

There is the potential for great good in this, or for great harm. All of these means of communication are essentially neutral. Digital signals do not discriminate between the voices planning a happy family reunion or those planning a deadly bomb blast. Good news can be spread by our media, but bad news seems to predominate. Spreading the news can mean help is on the way, or death and destruction.

We are made spectators and almost participants in every conflict going on anywhere in the world. Also every tragedy, injustice, uprising, and downfall. Also every notable achievement, scientific advance, and humanitarian success, although these tend to be ignored or underplayed.

A country makes war on another country, and all the other countries feel compelled to take sides. Sometimes they offer assistance and the fight becomes wider.

Unhappy citizens communicate their anger and organize themselves using mass communications. They rise up against their own governments, who respond with deadly force. Then everyone else in the world seems called on to take a side and join in. Poor Obama, who has tried to keep out of the civil war in Syria, and now is getting swept toward it like a stick in a rushing river.

Like it or not, we are all becoming participants in an emerging global community where someone’s business becomes everyone’s business. Someone’s disease becomes everyone’s disease. Someone’s bad economy becomes everyone’s bad economy.

Like it or not, we are citizens of the world we live in. Any war among us is a civil war.

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