Communication Systems Through the Ages

Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are truly revolutionary systems of communication and receive sufficient recognition as such.  However the general public has become so accustomed to them, that they have become blind to many of these systems potentially negative consequences.  A similar pattern of adaptation can be seen following the invention and development of the telegraph during in the 19th Century.  The public’s initial reaction was overwhelmingly positive, equating the importance of the telegraph to Columbus’ discovery of the new world.  This technology brought the world together and for the first time, people were able to communicate quickly over a long distance.  It was “hailed as nothing less than the instrument of world peace.”  What people did not see was that “the telegraph was in danger of becoming a victim of its own success.”

When Facebook experiences a glitch or changes its layout, there is generally an initial lack of approval from the public followed by an assimilation period and eventual approval.  The system has become such a crucial part of their lives that they willingly accept modifications, even if they deem them undesirable or unnecessary.  Like all modern technologies, the telegraph also had its malfunctions.  After the French enhancement of the pneumatic telegraph, “the volume or messages being passed around the network almost doubled in the first year.”  Telegraph lines experienced congestion and messages were unable to be sent as quickly or systematically.  As newspapers began to utilize the system as a source of information, their stories focused far too heavily on foreign news rather than covering more important, local happenings.  However, people continued to use the telegraph and read the newspaper because despite their shortcomings, they were far more convenient than anything else available at the time.

As Standage points out, “better communication does not necessarily lead to a wider understanding of other points of view.”  This notion is what really connects the old media environment to that of the present and also supports Pariser’s argument of the filter bubble.  While better communication does enable more voices to be heard, it does not guarantee that these voices will differ from our own.  Rather, according to Pariser, these systems will render us unaware of opposing viewpoints altogether.  Just as the telegraph never brought world peace in the 19th Century, SNS are unlikely to create a harmonious, well-informed, and unified nation today.  Do you think that technology is capable of being a peacemaking power?  Since the invention of the telegraph, have we come any closer to uniting the world as “members of one great family?”

This entry was posted in Winter 2012. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Communication Systems Through the Ages

  1. snayeon says:

    Although technology was initially created to bring people together, it has become more based on self-interest and making profit. Technology does not cause unity but instead causes people to become more competitive. For example, when the telegraph was introduced to the newspaper industry, newspaper companies became more competitive and fought to be the first one to report on new news so they can make more profit. Also, as technology evolved and the newspaper industry started dwindling, news stations started competing with other stations to produce the best viewership ratings and to keep viewers engaged. Instead of creating unity, technology causes a “self-interest” society, where individuals use technology to better themselves and for self-interest motives. For example, Internet users use Facebook more to keep up with friends and to maintain their profiles than to meet new people who do not share common interests and goals. Although technology fails to create a unified world, it can cause people to come together as “members of one great family” when tragedies and natural disasters occur. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, people from all over the US and the world came together to provide support and relief for the victims and people involved. The quick response and spread of natural disaster news help society to forget about one’s own interest and quickly respond and unite to help out the victims.

  2. andgoldberg says:

    I think looking into the social characteristics behind SNS is important in regards to this argument. There are countless different types of social networking sites and other mediums which connect individuals via the Internet. Not only do these mediums allow individuals to converse/gain knowledge through each other, there are many examples of users coming together under one cause via these mediums. While media may be pushing a split-party viewpoint on politics, I do not think that social media are creating a uniform viewpoint. Each medium has the capacity of being beneficial in our society, it’s just up to the people using the technology to use it in the “right” way. Hopefully society will take all of this great technology and use it for the better.

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