Saturday, December 17, 2011

How Did We Ever Live Without...

Smoke signals, messenger on foot or horseback, telegraph, telephone, telex, facsimile machines, internet, cellphone, wireless internet, and smartphones. Did I leave anything out? Since 1837, we humans have been on the fast track in developing newer and faster ways to communicate over long distances. For thousands of years, we communicated between villages, towns, and continents in a matter of months, sometimes years. Families would learn about births, deaths, marriages, and world events only when someone happened through a village or town entrusted with information that may or may not ever reach the recipient.

Most information was exchanged verbally because mostly people did not know how to read or write. As more and more people learned to read and write, faster and more organized ways of exchanging information over long distances developed. With the discovery of electricity, we were off to the races. Expansion of the railroad and the accompanying telegraph brought communication between towns from months or years to weeks or days.

Then came the telephone. Suddenly, we could communicate in a matter of hours or minutes. Within a matter of 50 years, we have graduated to the internet, email, cellphones, wireless/mobile internet and smartphones. With all of this we have gone from communicating in minutes to mere seconds.

With each successive upgrade, it is hard to remember how we ever lived with only smoke signals. But, are we better off? Now that we can carry handheld instant communication devices in which we can share all of the most intimate details of our daily lives as they are happening to anyone in the world, do we communicate better or just faster? What do you think?

40 comments:

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, The question is moot. With twitter, people are quickly unlearning how to communicate. In a few years, we'll all be illiterate again. :(

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: Without those devices and modern conveniences, you can talk with someone or talk at someone. Most of what I see of today's instant communications is comprised of talking at other people.

Tennessee Jed said...

faster for the most part, but that doesn't always mean better. I think texting has made people more rude since you can be sitting with people who should know better that are buried in their smart phone while ignoring you.

On the other hand, there are many times my wife had to be downtown after dark and I was glad enough she had a cell and could quickly do a 911 if needed.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew - But the upside is that for now, one actually has to be able to read and write to tweet, email!

Except that the Iphone 4S now talks to you. I am not sure whether you can dictate to it and it will prepare and send texts, emails, or tweets, but it's only a matter of months before it will. I expect the next generation will be brain implants. We will just be able to communicate brainwave to brainwave and we will eventually lose our ability to communicate verbally.

So, okay, you are right. I am now really depressed. All of those elocution lessons for nothing. And another career path destroyed. No need for speech pathologists if no one needs to speak!

BevfromNYC said...

LawHawk - I think we communicate less. Now we have all sorts of ways to ignore someone. It used be that if you wanted to ignore someone, you could not answer the door or telephone or open the letter. Now you can ignore emails, texts, tweets, cellphone calls, IM's. What will come next that we can ignore?

BevfromNYC said...

Tennessee - You are absolutely right. We are no longer in the moment with the people who are in room with us. We are now sharing these "moments" with people across the world, but those right next to us.

I have friends who post photos of all the food they eat on Facebook. Why do they think anyone cares that much what they eat at a restaurant? What's more disturbing is people DO!! Seriously, WHY??

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, You make an interesting point that we communicate less even as we speak more.

I've definitely noticed that, that people seem to be speaking a lot but don't really care about the response.

AndrewPrice said...

... it's the Age of Narcissism.

ScottDS said...

I think about this sometimes. Among my peers, I was one of the last to get a cell phone - back when they were the size of small paperback books - because I didn't want to look like "one of those people." Eventually, I got a hand-me-down for emergencies. I am proud to say that, unlike my peers, I never fell for the beeper craze in the mid-90s. Seriously, what 6th grader is getting paged at nine in the morning?! :-)

I am now on my third cell phone (first smartphone) and I'm due for a new one next month: it'll most likely be an iPhone but I don't know how much chatting I'll be doing with Siri. As cool as the tech is, I'm still conscious of talking on the phone in public. Outside in a parking lot is one thing but inside a store is another (on line at the Post Office is an exception!).

I've mentioned this article before but Wired did an interesting story a couple years ago: 100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About.

Among others: rotary phones, pay phones, answering machines, and getting lost. Of course, mine is the last generation to know any of this. Anyone born as little as a decade after me will most likely not know this stuff.

And re: Facebook - I like it. I'm on it a lot. I find it a convenient way to share information and indeed, much of what I use it for is sharing articles and assorted nerdery to my friends. Not to mention it's an easy way to keep in touch with family. (And stalk my crush from film school.) :-)

As for conversation, I hate when people whip out their phones in the middle of dinner. I've done it myself once or twice but I try to catch myself.

BevfromNYC said...

Scott - I remember years ago (in the early '90's) seeing some man in the grocery store talking to his wife "Now honey, what aisle was that thing you wanted in?". I thought at the time, why didn't he just ask someone IN the store! That's when one paid by the minute.

Another "100 things" moment. I was working within the last 10 years with a new college graduate. I needed him to add information to a paper form by typewriter. He looked at me kind of funny and hemmed and hawed. Suddenly it dawned on me "Oh, my god, you have no idea how to use an electric typewriter, do you? "Nope." I felt so old...

Ed said...

I think we need to separate two kinds of communications.

In the first, you have people you are close to, such as close friends and family. I think the internet has been good at making it easier to communicate with these people, but has reduced the personal touch by making it more electronic.

In the second are people you wouldn't have kept up with without the internet, like friends from school. For these people, the internet has reconnected people and expanded communication.

I think this accounts for people keeping in touch with more people, but simultaneously feeling like their relationships aren't as personal as before.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew - That is exactly what it is. The Age of Narcissism! Everyone is supposed to care about what we do all day. I go on record, I don't care if you are at the gym or what you having for dinner.

I love sharing my opinion as much as anyone, but not everything I think is golden or profound. (I know you probably don't believe that, but it's true!) One can share too much in the same way one can show too much skin. After a while, people just tune it out.

BevfromNYC said...

Scott - I just am incapable of talking on my cell in public. I just don't like having private conversations in public. Partly because they are private and mostly because I can't walk and talk at the same time.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I despise twitter for that very reason. "yo, jus scatched my a$$"

I'm also a big fan of Flikr, because I am amazed at some of the really great and creative photos people come up with.... but there are far too many people who do intensely narcissistic things like taking pictures of all their meals and then writing about them or taking their own pictures in a mirror each day and posting that.

What makes these people think anyone cares about every one of their waking moments?

AndrewPrice said...

Bev and Scott, I've been won over on cell phones. The coolest thing is being able to book a hotel while driving across country without having to plan the whole thing in advance.

Plus, I've seen the use in things like calling people from the store and asking "did you want the large consumer special or the ultra large?" and things like that. Or like I did the other day and calling the store and asking "where the heck are you people?"

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew - I like my cell and feel safer having it with me when I'm away from home. And for my aging brain that can't remember the name of that actor...you know that one that was in that movie that I can't name of either, 3G has been a godsend. Love that instant google search on my smart phone!

But now I am always available and feel obligated to stay in communication with work while on vacation. It's stressing me out.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, That is the downside. When I first joined a huge law firm in DC, I was handed a laptop and a cell phone and I was told that I needed to be available all the time.

In my first year, they even called a guy in from his vacation to work on a project. And he did it.

I went a different route. I made it clear that would make me criminally insane. They never tested that... smart move.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew, after 9/11 senior staff and attorneys were issued blackberries. It was great at first because they had only been out a year or two, so we felt special. But it quickly became a burden and very stressful to have to be connected all the time and obligated to respond 24/7.

I insist that anyone who needs to reach me while I am on vacation, can call me or text me on my cell. I'm not going to monitor my blackberry emails. It defeats the purpose of vacating...

Individualist said...

Bev

There is a Scifi book I reaqd called Changeling. Now to be upfront this book was written in the Shadowrun Roleplaying Game Universe. This is a fantasy table top RPG that assumes a crash of the internet and the awakening of magical natures where people transfoprm into Orks, Elves and Trolls. The world was set in a cyberpunk future where to interact with a computer you jacked yourself in and felt a VR reality aka William Gibson.

IF you can forgive the juvinelle nature of the book it made a great point. In a world of technology where you could think your requests and have the computer react. In a world where all you had to do to get any information you wanted was to ask the computer to show it to you and it would pull up a video. The average person did not need to be literate.

He simply only needed to be knowlegeable enough to understand the icons on a computer screen or the physical representaitons of them in the VR reality where sight, sound, touch, smell and taste were jacked directly into your brain.

In this world the average waitress and janitor and unskilled laborers thought learning to read and write was a waster of time for the nerds. Even people who were wealthy such as salesman etc would scoff at spenidng the time to learn to read or do math. Why bother the computer would always have more knowledge at hand right!

IT created a class of technical workers who had learned the skills of reading and mathematics in order to be engineers and laborers that required this knowledge. IT was an interesting concept.

Individualist said...

P.S.

The book refered to people that were savvy at using a computer but not able to read as iconerate.

Knowing how to use the icons of a computer was considered vital to learn.

ScottDS said...

The ubiquitousness of smartphones has also done serious damage to film/TV storytelling. Where's the drama when the hero can simply use his phone to pull up all the information he needs to know? The "I can't get a signal!" excuse is already a cliche.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I'm going to get parody that when I get around to writing a parody of the political thriller. They're going to find the villain on Google with a simple search.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I've never read any cyberpunk, though I am intrigued by the artwork.

I have long debated if people will ever get to the point where they stop learning to read. I can see it if technology goes far enough, but I'm just not sure.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew, it is only a matter of time before we stop reading. We have already gotten to the point where people have stopped writing. Skills like penmanship are obsolete. The talking computer has arrived, so we will no longer need to read. Our electronic readers will do it for us. The issue is when will we stop thinking for ourselves completely.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Some people have already gotten the jump on the rest of us on that... far too many in fact. Indeed, thinking is discouraged in many circles.

I think the moment we stop reading will be when we get implants that tells us things we need to know like how to find the Chinese restaurant. When technology gets to that point that there truly is no need for an independent brain anymore, that's when people will stop reading.

And that will be a sad day.

BevfromNYC said...

Indie - Sounds like the Jules Verne of the 21st Century. We are almost there already. College diplomas are worth today what high school diplomas were 30 years ago. First learning will be deemed "uncool". (I think that's happening now.) Then kids will pride themselves that since Google can tell them all they need to know, they don't need to retain information or learn.

Okay, now I'm scaring myself.

Eric P said...

>>people are quickly unlearning how to communicate. In a few years, we'll all be illiterate again.>>

Brawndo good. Got electrolytes.

T-Rav said...

The funny thing with all this technology is, I swear I have no use for it before I start using it, and within a few years I wonder how I managed without it. That's the way it goes, I guess. However, I am still holding out against Kindles/Nooks/E-books as a threat to everything I hold dear. :-(

T-Rav said...

Also, take it from me, texting and the like is seriously degrading the communication skills of high schoolers and college kids. I see it in their essays and emails all the time. And I do have room to complain about that, since I still spell everything out in my text messages and capitalize.

hi skulr said...

U li.

BevfromNYC said...

Eric - I have long suspected that we will evolve to have giant index fingers for pushing buttons and no feet. Remember "Max Headroom"?

Kolej gratuet said...

No hi skulr, it's "U lay".

BevfromNYC said...

T-Rav - I got an Ipad and now I'm caught between two worlds. I love being able to download my newspapers in the morning and reading them on the subway. But I'm having a hard time with books. I love to share books that I read and the tactile feel of a book. But the plus side is I don't need a light to read. But the minus I think I'm going blind from the light.

Grumpy OleHi Scoolr said...

In my day, we lied up hill both ways and then worked in a mine. You kids today don't know how good you have it.

AndrewPrice said...

Eric, LOL! Bravo! :)

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Join the e-book revolution!

Individualist said...

Andrew

The book did a very good job of showing how the technology would work.

Essentially people has "jack" short for data jack which was implanted in their bodies and hooked up to the nervous system in the brain. The jack could be plugged in through a wire or it could be wireless. Either way computer devices could use the communication to transfer sensory imput directly to the brain.

Information such as video and audio could be watched secretly by the user while having a conversation. IF you were studying gravity in school you would simply watch videos and bookmark the links to the information so that you could answer the question.

IF you were reading a book, the audio would stream into your ears or the a paragraph of cliff notes could be downloaded to your short term memory and for the time you would remember it as if you had just read it. IF you needed to make a mathematical calculation the why and the answer would be available.

The output device would be your brain. the input would be your thoughts as you used your normal movement to push a button with your hands to instead direct the hand of a virtual avator or yourself to push a nonexistent button. This is the icon.

According to the book if you only needed the answer in order to get something to work, you did not need to reaqd it or understand it, you only needed to know where to go to get the computer to tell you where the information was.

However if you had to design it or truly understand it then you had to actually learn it the hard way, by reading, taking notes and study. This was still a necessary skill but only a few actually needed to know this. for the others the datajack (the port that transfered data to a human brain) and the simsense (the device that created and allowed you to interact with the virtual world) were all that was needed.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, The last part is the most insightful because I've seen that in law and when I was in engineering school -- having access to answers is not enough. I had lots of classes when I was in engineering school where they gave you the formulas and people still couldn't answer the questions because they just didn't know how to do it. And in law I've seen that all the time where people could look up anything they wanted and still couldn't find an answer because they didn't understand how the law works.

Individualist said...

Andrwew

That is spot on.

What makes the prophecy in the book as to how this technology will be used so concerning is that the computer will not just give you the formula.

With AI programs it will calculate the answer based on what you tell it. It will describe the information to you that is required and it will produce a result that appears to have been thought out with the care that you describe.

In reality though the end user does not really understand so the answer could be completely wriong but no one would know it because they relied on the computer to provide the answer. Despite the source of the book the way it treated how this would affect society was very telling.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, That's a fascinating idea, that the answers might be wrong and no one know its. That is of course very likely, but in these types of stories the assumption is always that the computer gets it right.

Fascinating.

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