Parallels across time
This week whilst viewing the lecture content and reading the set texts I noticed parallels between communication issues we have today and those from a couple of centuries ago (I’m talking 1800s).
Firstly, the commentary published in the New York Times in 1858 states that the telegraph is causing injury. It says, “how trivial and paltry is the telegraphic column? It snowed here, it rained there, one man killed, another hanged” (New York Times 1858). There are parallels between this and the way social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter were first received.
How trivial and paltry is the Facebook newsfeed. I woke up, I walked to the kitchen, I drank juice, it tasted nice. Apps such as Spotify jumped on the bandwagon asking you to share the song you were listening to with all of your friends (‘no, I think they will survive without that detail’). Which reminds me of good ol’ MSN, you listen to a song on iTunes and ‘Oops you did it again’. You forgot that the song would pop-up under my name. Now everyone knows that you still haven’t got over Britney.
Secondly, I turn to the issue of communication not yet being accessible to everyone. Back in 1866, the first trans-Atlantic cable was laid and it cost $100 to send a 10-word message. These days, that comes in at around $1500. This form of communication is not for the masses, only for the elite. James Curran, an author and a professor of communications at the University of London, released a book in 2012 called ‘Misunderstanding the Internet’. He speaks about the caution we should have in thinking that the internet is a democratic source bringing the world together. He says that it is the affluent that are being brought into the conversation. The total proportion of population who were internet users in 2011 was 30 percent (Internet World Stats 2011a). This means that the people with a lower level of wealth are disconnected and are not a part of the world conversation. The internet has joined the world closer together, more than any other technology, but we still have the same communication problem in 2014 as in 1866. The internet is not yet reaching everyone.
Thirdly, as discussed by Sterling (1993) in ‘A Short History of the Internet’ – users could not be stopped from using their electronic mailboxes for content which was not work-related. In North Korea, the internet is under strict control and “North Korea has for decades commanded its citizens’ loyalty in part by telling them that they live in the richest, most advanced society on earth” (Fisher 2013). Smuggling and black markets are highly illegal in North Korea, where they’re seen as direct threats to the government’s control of information. Yet the black market is a booming economy allowed by their access to the internet. As Lessig (2006) points out – the internet is difficult to govern; and as Sterling (1993) points out – it was created this way on purpose.
There are parallels between communication issues across time that may never be solved for each respective party as long as the internet remains a free network of information flows.
Curran, J 2012, Misunderstanding The Internet, Routledge, United Kingdom.
Internet World Stats 2011a, Internet World Stats, viewed 8 August 2014, <http://www.internetworldstats.com>.
Sterling, B 1993, ‘A Short History of the Internet’, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Connecticut.
Image: Britney Spears 1999, Britney Spears, viewed 8 August 2014, <www.britneyspears.com>.