113 Overview

Change -- A love hate relationshi:

This is said to be the dawn of the electronic age. Whatever this means, technology, particularly with computers and networks of computers, is fundamentally changing the ways we communicate. As Marshall McLuhen wrote inUnderstanding Media: The Extensions of Man:

"Today it is the instant speed of electric information that, for the first time, permits easy recognition of the patterns and the formal contours of change and development. The entire world, past and present, now reveals itself to us like a growing plant in an enormously accelerated movie. Electric speed is synonymous with light and with the understanding of causes."

It is not just the pace that is increasing. Communications gives us a continuous awareness of our world that is unprecedented in human history. This is a deep change in our lives and is too new for us to fully grasp. We can, at best, observe some of its characteristics.

The changes appear much deeper than simply speed and practicality. We are building new intellectual and social structures. As Sherry Turkle writes in Life on The Screen:

"At one level, the computer is a tool. It helps us write, keep track of our accounts, and communicate with others. Beyond this, the computer offers us both new models of mind and a new medium on which to project our ideas and fantasies. More recently, the comptuer has become even more than tool and mirror: We are able to step through the looking glass. We are learning to live in virtual worlds. We may find ourselves alone as we navigate virtual oceans, unravel virtual mysteries, and engineer virtual skyscrapers. But increasingly, when we step through the looking glass, other people are there as well.

When we read our electronic mail or send postings to an electronic bullitin board or make and airline reservation over a computer network, we are in cyberspace. In cyberspace, we can talk, exchange ideas, and assume personae of our own creation. We have the opprotunity to build new kinds of communities, virtual communities in which we participate with people from all over the world, people with whom we converse daily, people with whom we may have fairly intimate relationships, but whom we never physically meet."

The above is even more true than when Sherry wrote the above in 1995. We live a virtual lfe, texting, using avatar's, facebook, flickr, and video conferencing with programs like Skype.

Michael Dertouzas describes the building of an "Information Marketplace" in his book What Will Be. It is a sort of global bazaar. It exists though on the same infrastucture and components as the world of social interaction that Sherry Turkle alludes to above. Information is not just the mechanism of commerce but is a product itself. Its importance is vastly increased.

Of course, the computer is only a part of this change. Other electronic systems that have and continue to change our culture include television, radio, iPods (and other digital music players), telephone (wired and cellular), tablet devices (Kindle and iPads, etc.), DVDS's, video tape, and motion picture technologies. As we look back at the last 100 years, we see a ubiquitous rapid infusion of electronic systems.

The computer and network are, of course, now heavily used in these "earlier" technologies. It is difficult to describe their separate impact. However, the computer and network systems rolling into use today are being accepted at a remarkable pace. They allow for new forms of communication and for a widening of the access to communications.

The 1984 Apple AD:

The rise in importance of the computer has had interesting "side effects" on culture, particularly American culture. For example, the 1984 ad that introduced the Macintosh transformed the Super Bowl from football's yearly high point to the yearly high watermark for advertising. (Advertising Age said unequivocally that it was "the best commercial ever made." ) It showed only once nationally, on January 22, 1984, during the third quarter of the game and one of the sports announcers exclaimed "What was that" when game coverage resumed. It received major coverage in the news media after it was broadcast. This "free advertising" began the interest in introducing ads during events. The ad was produced by Ridley Scott, who had become famous for directing the films Alien and Blade Runner. Scott went on to direct many films including Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Thelma&Louise, and Kingdom of Heaven and many TV shows including the series The Good Wife.. For the 2004 Super Bowl, Apple released a slightly edited version. The original ad was almost used in a bowl game instead of the Super Bowl. The Apple Board of Directors decided to delay it to a date close to the computer's introduction. The Directors also hated the ad when they previewed it. The company had paid for a 90 second spot during the Super Bowl and tried to get their money back. They settled on a 60 second version and got some of their money back. Apple paid roughly $700,000 to have the ad made. At that time, that was an outrageously large sum. Run the two below and see if you can see the differences. It is important to understand that advertising is a sophisticated form of communication. This ad directly tries to draw the viewer's mind to George Orwell's book "1984." It suggests that buying the product being advertised as breaking away from regimented and tedious adherence to conformity.

Image 2

1984 Original Macintosh Ad

Image 1

2004 Edited Macintosh Ad

 

US Railroad track:

In this course, we will be interested in the nature and impact of the rapidly evolving communication systems. We will survey using a number of them. The idea that they are changing rapidly and that the culture changes with them is independently interesting. Arguably, humans are very adaptable, but don't actually choose to change the way they do things with strong reasons. Consider the following (partially tongue-in-cheek) story that's easy to find (this is from Cecil Adams's Straight Dope Site):

"The U.S. standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is four feet, eight and a half inches. That's an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the U.S. railroads.

Why did the English people build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the prerailroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.

Why did 'they' use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons use that odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing the wagons would break on some of the old, long-distance roads, because that's the spacing of the old wheel ruts.

 

So who built these old rutted roads? The first long-distance roads in Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the benefit of its legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts? Roman war chariots made the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagons. Since the chariots were made for or by Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Thus, the standard U.S. railroad gauge of four feet, eight and a half inches derives from the specification for an Imperial Roman army war chariot.

Specs and bureaucracies live forever. So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse's ass came up with it, you may be exactly right. Because the Imperial Roman chariots were made to be just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two warhorses.""

It turns out this has more than a grain of truth (and some links that may just be coincidence.) Julius Ceasar did mandate this width for charriott wheels. The moral is that we don't change from the Roman width without a very good reason. So as we study one communication system replacing another and th culture learning and adapting relatively quickly, there must be a set of stronng reasons operating.