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This Author takes a look at the massive advancements taking place in the world of communicatins.

It’s not just one gender that likes to gossip. What after all is gossip but an exchange of data? And data takes many forms, whether it’s information about your neighbours, the stock exchange, the hurling results or the sonic boom that my nieces call music. Like it or not, we love data and, if better methods of exchanging it become available, we’ll be attracted to them like flies to cow-dung.

There are plenty of flies in the Western world who simply can’t get enough of communications, and when you consider the fact that half of the world’s population hasn’t made or received a phone call, you‘d have to admit that fair play alone means that communications will have to expand. Whether it’s driven by godliness or greed, the information revolution is sure to continue.

Even if it was only to summon a witch doctor, information has had to be carried for as long as we‘ve been here. Horses and pigeons were pressed into service and with the faster transmission of data for administrative purposes it became possible for countries as we know them to develop. How long do you think we in Athenry would take orders from distant Dublin if we were back in mud huts and not a horse was available?

Smoke signals

But news still travelled slowly in bygone days and, even when messages were delivered, how many could read or understand them? I think the Red Indians stole a march on us all with their smoke signaIs – anybody could understand them and the signal travelled at the speed of light. We caught up. We invented the telegraph and the telephone. Radio and television came in the last century.

Nobody could have predicted their impact. Whereas they started out as a means of improving trade and government, or providing entertainment for the masses, their true effect ran deeper. Information no longer came directly from the Oracle, whether that was Church or government. It flowed between people themselves- you could say they were empowered. True, repressive regimes controlled the media and tapped people’s phones but, as we’ve seen in recent decades, history is a tide you can‘t turn.

Frightening changes

Juda,s in a film, berated Christ for starting his mission in an era with no mass communications but how might Christ have fared in the glare of a critical media and informed population? Things would have turned out differently. A lot of us are frightened now – particularly if we’re thirty years or older – because by God, the future will be different from anything we know.

Internet

Ask anybody what the biggest communication upheaval has been in recent years and the answer would probably be the internet. The concept isn’t new. Its really thousands of computers linked together by phone lines and it’s global.  It’s more than a means of reading articles or downloading music. Nowadays it’s the channel through businesses place and receive orders, advertise their wares and look for employees. You write your letters and consult your electronic nurse with problems you might be too embarrassed to confide to a live one. You chat with people (not always a good idea). Banks do their business by computer to the point of over-dependence. Air traffic control, environmental monitoring and news of famines come through computers.

With so much being done by computers, one major benefit has been improved efficiency. The amount of air travel today couldn’t be sustained without them. Any time there’s a blip on the computers near Heathrow, millions of travellers are delayed. More and more shopping is done on the Internet. Many high-street stores in Britain now have an internet-shopping facility. It’s only a matter of time before the high-street facility closes.

What does that do for employment and property values?

Teleworking

A lot of office work can now be done on the home computer. More people book their flights on the Internet. Did I say flights? High-flying executives will make increasing use of video link-ups for meetings and may one day forgo that tedious flight to Brussels or critical media and informed population or wherever. Taken to its logical conclusion, we might well be looking at emptier roads and desolate airports before long.

A lot of this could have happened and didn’t. It would appear that people still like to get out and mix – the shopping trip being an excuse for socialising. However, there is a growing insularity in people. How many of us have a neighbour we don’t know? A week ago, I visited a pub and shared the counter with a bunch of people, all yelling into mobile phones. This was after I had been bumped into about a dozen times by robots talking to themselves….l mean, the mobile. With face-to-face contact well on the mobile phone trend can only continue.

And, maybe that is a good thing. No more need for phone lines, which means everybody on earth will be in reach.

We’ll still need phone lines or broadband or optic cables for computers but that won’t last. Although the technology is young and having plenty of problems, computers and mobile phones will eventually be linked by satellite. The only cables left will be electricity cables – no way around that, l’m afraid.

As computers become faster and more reliable, people will stop wasting paper. You’ll read your books off the internet – the only reason this hasn’t caught on is that publishers haven’t found a way of preventing illegal copying and distribution – yet.

Hi tech future

Long-term, what do I expect? Well, it won’t be long before we have a “digital device” in your house that will be aTV, radio, computer, shopping counter and a system for controlling your cooker, central heating, air-conditioning and alarms.

Expect credit cards, ID cards, pension books to go. You’ll probably be able to push your finger into a slot (a fingerprint is ID enough) any time you buy something, enter a club or cross a border. Expect cash to disappear. It’s a truism to say that traditional jobs will go but, honestly, who would lament some of the jobs that are now history?

And privacy? Yes, but we’ll lose and gain there. With the global village becoming a reality, we could well see world government, particularly with the global move towards learning English.

Downside

Society will change. But one thing won’t – our ability to misuse things. Porn on the Internet, nuisance phone calls, John Rusnaks, party propaganda on envelopes…..the day that ends will indeed be the Last Day.

Outside our world are millions of light years of Universe. Maybe it beckons to us but one thing is certain – we’ll never control it as we did the Earth until we have faster-than-light communications. That, truly, is the next hurdle.

Paul Holland is a teacher in Presentation College, Galway and has travelled widely.

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Written by Paul Holland

Published here 15 Jul 2023 and originally published Summer 2001

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