Monday, 21 February 2011

Communications technology

I’m not an old man. I don’t wear slippers, I don’t need a walking stick, and I don’t get a free bus pass. But when I was a lad, mobile phones were essentially still the preserve of Star Trek: The Original Series. You’d go into town to meet someone, and if they or you were unable to get there, you’d wait around for a bit and eventually leave.

That’s in the very recent past, but technology really has revolutionised the way we communicate. I still don’t have a mobile (I’m not a fan of phones), but recognise that mobiles, e-mail, blogs, social networks and twitter have fundamentally altered the way people communicate.

This does allow for a lot of inaccurate rumour-mongering and idle gossip. However, it also has been a great leap forward for freedom of expression and has changed forever human behaviour and the possibilities available to organisations and individuals.

We can now, if so minded, read what celebrities or even politicians are thinking on twitter. Not my cup of tea, but twitter was one of the means of communication used during the unsuccessful protests in Iran some time ago and the very recent successful Egyptian ousting of Mubarak.

Information, including music and books, can now be sent from almost anywhere to almost anywhere. The net and similar technologies are used by terrorists, friends, journalists and revolutionaries.

There are problems. As well as gossiping, there’s the rather more serious problem of slanderous and vile smearing of individuals or groups (I had an excellent example in mind, but don’t want to repeat it and spread the filth).

Easy sharing of data files was a problem for the music industry for a long time, and still is to an extent. It remains to be seen whether e-books will prove liberating for authors or simply allow their creations to be stolen and shared without appropriate remuneration.

Interestingly, despite the furious pace of communications technology development, it is not an entirely one way street. Vinyl is the prime example of this. It’s outdated, inefficient and still sought after. In the same way, I think e-books will flourish but real books will survive. I hope so, anyway.

I do intend to get a Kindle at some point. Unfortunately, procrastinating is one of my few real talents. I’m intrigued at the prospect of a screen that’s easy to read, the free (though limited, I think) access to the net and getting books almost instantly.

Twitter and other websites and technologies have played a role in the recent uprisings that have affected, and continue to affect, north Africa and the Middle East. Proof, were it needed, that the pen is still mightier than the sword.


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