Digital Communication

Last Wednesday I discussed artificial intelligence and suggested personality emerges as we interact as conscious beings.  One major impact of the Internet is digital communication, which has enlarged our circles; we can chat daily with people from all over the planet.

I remember studying computer science in the mid-1970s, a few years before silicon chips were announced.  There was talk of the coming merging of computing and communications.  Computers at the time were huge machines and terminals communicated directly with them.  There were a few midi and microcomputers, using solid state transistors.  These were usually boxes used to drive other equipment.  Screen monitors were rare.

Tele-printers could link to one another but it was all rather laborious.

Over the following decades IT morphed into ICT and today there are many ways we can communicate with people all over the world.  There is no need to list all the methods available to us.  I want to ask what differences enhanced communications have made.

Enhanced Understanding

Low cost communication systems mean people can stay in touch with families and friends with greater ease then they could in the past.  With the right equipment, they can speak to and see each other every day if they choose.

It is possible to make friends with people you have never met in the flesh.  This must enhance understanding between nations.

How much of a person’s real presence can camera and sound alone communicate?  Actors have been doing this for years.  But actors usually project fictional personas, so to what extent do we truly know them?

My experience suggests it is possible to maintain online relationships and those relationships can include a great deal of what we experience through in-person contact.  As so much can be shared, it is worth having these relationships in our lives.

But it is like seeing people on a stage – there is always so much we cannot possibly see or experience.  We capture a glimpse of a room but maybe never see the other side of it.  We don’t see their communities, their streets, their parks.  Or if we do we see only what they choose for us to see.

We see both more and less of a person when we know them online.  I’d hesitate to say it’s better if we have at least met them.  These relationships are different and need to be accepted for what they are.

They are not precursors of the science fiction world where we all live in bubbles and communicate solely with images of our friends.

Pocket-Sized Computers

Mobile phones enhance communications with people we meet in-person.  Whilst people can use them to communicate with people elsewhere in the world who they never meet in-person, the mobile primarily enhances personal contact.

Perhaps their greatest value is in arranging meetings.  It is easy to send text reminders and if someone doesn’t turn up, phone and ask them what’s happened.  It is hard to remember how we organised meetings without mobiles in the recent past!

Mobiles support local economies.  There may be more we can do, apps yet to be invented or even conceived.  But imagine taking a bus across town and being able to find a café to your liking.  These applications are close if not already with us.  The aim is to get beyond advertising and simply get information about what is there.

It is miniaturisation that allows us to carry so much computing power around in our pockets.  Most of us take for granted computing power far more than what was on the moon rockets in the 1960s, instantly available at the press of a button.

Erosion of Professions

You may have spotted I am avoiding the downside of these changes.  The cyber-bullying, frustration when having to step around so many people who are not looking where they are going.  These problems are likely to be with us for a long time.  We need to understand the consequences if we were to sacrifice our access to this computing power because of its misuse.

However, not all the downsides are a result of misuse.  For many, computers undermine professions as they place more power into the hands of amateurs.  There are many examples.  Most phones carry a video camera.  Most of us could quickly teach ourselves how to make a watchable video.  It doesn’t need to be brilliant.

Professionals in the video industry are perhaps not challenged so far.  It still takes time and effort to produce a really good video.  Whilst a poor but watchable video may have some worth, it is not always the best vehicle for businesses and other organisations.

Professional video producers offer the human side of the equation.  They know how to produce a video that powerfully conveys our message.  Most people do not know how to produce such a good film.  To do so requires human interaction.  Perhaps most organisations don’t need many such videos but most would benefit from at least one.

Perhaps enhanced technological power implies greater human interaction when they produce quality products and services.  The question is whether the net numbers of livelihoods will increase or decrease at the relentless development of new computing power.

What do you think are the advantages of ICT?  How have human relationships developed with these new technologies?

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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