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Technology And Communication

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As I write this I'm sitting in the Vancouver airport in the departure lounge which I find offers one of the more interesting places to study electronic communication. Although this is a completely unscientific study from my current vantage point I can currently see 35 people. 14 of those are either talking on their cell phones or sending text/email messages. 6 people are using their laptop computers, 9 people are reading, 4 are listening to music and 2 people are idle. An interesting side note is that the 2 idle participants in my informal study are a 2 year old while the other is an older woman that is over 70 years old by my guessestimate. I often like to study electronic communication habits while traveling because being on an airplane is one of the few times in modern life when we are forced to turn off our "electronic devices" as they are so politely labeled by the aviation industry. I somehow find it hard to believe that my cell phone could interfere with millions of dollars worth of high tech aviation electronics but I'm always certain to turn off my phone as instructed. I suppose deep down I don't want to become famous as the "Occupant of Seat 4A who took a phone call during take off which led to the crash of Flight 168 to Toronto". Of course many airplanes are now equipped with live satellite TV which keeps the flow of electronic communication flowing like an essential IV for the communication addicts on board but for the most part flying is an exercise in electronic communication withdrawal. As soon as the plane lands it's like a group of drug addicts waiting for their next fix as their fingers tremble over the power button. What could be waiting for them? An important call from a client? A voicemail from a loved one? A txt message proclaiming "U R Fired, Pls Cln UR Desk Out ASAP"?

Black (2007: Oct 23, slide 7) argues that the advent of the telegraph signaled the first time that communication could truly be readily delivered without being physically transported. The ability to communicate across space without the constraints of time, cost of transport, or geographic considerations changed the very fabric of human communication. The advent of the telegraph coincided with technological advances that made travel across long distances easier and faster than ever before. Not only was the physical portion of message delivery removed from the equation but the message was able to pass even the fastest of these new physical transportation devices. These twin forces of technology began to change the way in which messages were valued, transmitted, and processed. The process of "cultural acceleration" had begun.

The current concept of cultural acceleration "is a product of an endless stream of new technologies in our lives, and especially, media technologies" (Black, 2007: Oct 23, slide 38).

However this full speed ahead approach to communication and technology is not without danger. Without caution we risk becoming the Titanic again, overly optimistic of technology as a method of overcoming basic irrefutable laws of nature. Any ship can sink due to the basic laws of physics and humans can become overwhelmed by messages due to the basic nature of our organic processing speed. Engineering, software, and adaptation can greatly enhance our external abilities to process and organize messages however the internal processes of comprehension and neural processing are untouchable by technology at this point in time.

As communication scholars fully appreciate, the ability to communicate is indeed a powerful tool. By essentially unleashing communication power and allowing the amount of communication to grow exponentially we are creating inflationary pressure. Anyone who has spent an afternoon with a busy corporate executive can tell you that their job essentially consists of managing, creating, responding, and controlling communication. In this new "knowledge economy" these tasks can be qualified as the labour of the modern day worker, the daily tasks of respond, reply, forward, delete, forward, and teleconference. But how much is too much? Just like exposure to excessive noise, wind, sun, etc. can be harmful can exposure to too many messages be just as detrimental to the human species?

In an amazingly short span of history the ability to communicate has been enhanced so rapidly that it has created a new set of challenges. The ability to communicate instantly across the world with text, sound, and video and a very low cost has raised the question of what happens to human organisms when we are presented with more messages than we can process, exposed to such speed and quantity of information that our feeble organic brains are barely coping and we teeter on the edge of "total loss of the bearings of the individual..." (Virilio, 1995, 1).

The current message boom is testing our ability to handle high volumes of information and humans may be teetering on the edge of information overload that could send us plunging into a modern dark age. Max Nordeau warned in 1892 ' would "take a century for people to be able to read a dozen square yards of newspapers daily, to be constantly called to the telephone, to be thinking simultaneously of the five continents of the world" without injury to the nerves.'(Kern, p. 210). While Nadeau was giving us 100 years to adapt to the telephone and newspaper he didn't provide any guidance to help us with the true communication monster we have now confronted with the advent of the proliferation of electronic communication.

Even though my time on earth has been brief so far even I have noticed changes in communication expectations. People that didn't even know what email was 5 years ago now expect a reply in under an hour. If you're not reachable on you cell phone instantly you can expect a flood of voicemail from those wondering just what you are up to. As an owner of a small business for the last 5 years I found myself struggling to find time to grow the business while spending the majority of my time managing daily communication with existing clients. I eventually found myself pushing growth to the stage where I could hire employees and one of the first positions to be filled was the ubiquitous "Administrative Assistant".



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