Sunday, January 27, 2013

Is Real Time Always Better?

I wonder what Lew Mumford would think of today's instant response time among twitter and other social media technology. In his selection from "Technics and Civilization" Mumford explores that mixed meaning of new communication technologies. He states that, "With the invention of the telegraph a series of inventions began to bridge the gap in time between communication and response despite the handicaps of space."  Mumford also reminds us of Plato's thoughts that the size of a city depended on the number of people that could hear the voice of the orator. That is definitely not the case today.

Through the inventions of telegraph, radio, television and now the internet, mass communication had taken on a whole new meaning. No longer is it a one sided conversation (the elite talking down to the commons as we spoke about in class) but now it's this exchange of data, real time, all over the world. What Mumford is interested in is the gap of time between the message and the response. For example, in the past if a person sends a letter in the mail, the must wait for the receiver to get the letter, write a response and mail it back. Today, technology has closed the gap with the invention of e-mail but even faster with google or facebook chat which provided a real time conversation. But is this all a good thing?

Mumford also brings the topic of danger to these inventions asking if humans always use the best method of communication for each situation?  Although I would assume most of us would agree the fast pace tech world we live in is great, it can also cause extreme issues of miscommunication. Instead of relying on face-to-face conversations that Phaedrus and Socrates would prefer, we often send a text message or e-mail instead of picking up the phone. Without direct communication and hearing the message with the tone in which it was meant (funny or serious), messages can often be misinterpreted, causing wrong actions, frustration and even fights.

On the flip side, Mumford also points out a great advantage of the latest inventions of communication which forms permanent records of history. "The camera gives an almost instantaneous cross-sections of history... for history is non-repeatable, and the only thing that can be rescued from history is the note that one takes and preserves at some moment of its evolution." (Mumford) But I'll ask again, is this always a good thing?

Lets take twitter for example. The epitome of self expression where your friends and even strangers from around the world can respond to your thoughts and tweets in seconds. But the danger as we're learning with the internet is that this immediate response channel is out there forever. Deleting tweets or photos can not even save you. One example would be the twitter exchange among comedian Jenny Johnson and singer Chris Brown. What began as a vocal expression about Johnson's feeling towards Brown became an all out, explicit, rated R conversation between the two on twitter. Brown even deleted his twitter account in an attempt to save face and his reputation but it was too late. Thousands of people still have screen shots and the detailed conversation still shows as the top result when googling, ""Chris Brown and Jenny Johnson."

Would Mumford be a fan a twitter or have his own handle, maybe? But on the other hand maybe there wouldn't be nearly as much feuding in the world if we all had to take the time to write an actual letter and mail it before responding to some trash talking. Regardless, as new technology is invented, civilization will also have to adjust carefully while remembering the pro's and con's of each and hopefully utilizing the best method for each instance.

1 comment:

  1. I was at a funeral of an old friend last weekend and we were all sitting around later looking at old pictures people had brought from 20-30 years ago.We had so much fun looking at them...and we were all relieved Twitter, Facebook and Instagram didn't exit back then!