Communications and Technology—The Fundamentals

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Last month, I warned about letting advanced communication technology distort our perception of what is real. Today allow me to expand on how I view the impact of communications and computing technology on our real activities.

When it comes to thought and information, we nowadays focus extraordinary attention on the tools we use to communicate. But, how often do we think about the fundamentals? The things that don’t change (much) whether using spoken word, pen on paper, brush on canvas, mobile talk handset, touch screen, keyboard, tablet, or mouse.
How communications and technology affect us all
Communication has always been, essentially, a transfer of thoughts from one mind to another. As human beings, we combine the intrinsic capabilities of gesture and speech, to transmit, with sight and hearing (primarily), to receive. Communication has evolved to overcome the limitations of space and time. The first “technology,” memory, expanded the temporal limits on communication from “here and now” to “from generation to generation.” Writing came along to expand further the limits on time, and also space so that “face-to-face” progressed to “as far as my letter can be carried.” Modern technology seems to remove the limits on space and time altogether.

Other limits on communication are also addressed to varying degrees by technology:

  • trust and security are addressed to some degree by improved cryptography
  • cultural differences are being overcome by the planet-wide reach of communication
  • linguistic barriers are also being crossed by widely available translation technology, though still crude

As I see it, there are four essential activities for which we use our communication skills:

  • Storytelling—distilling the universal out of personal experience
  • Reporting—finding out about the world and yourself, and the relationships between them
  • Creating —combining and transforming pieces with simple meanings into a complex idea
  • Connecting—communicating our intentions from person to person

I challenge you to think about ways that technology has affected, for better and for worse, these four areas. I’ll post more of my thoughts on the matter next time.

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