Thursday, May 8, 2014

Communication, Technology, and Culture

Let's start with communication itself.  There are two parts to communication: the content of what is being communicated, and the medium through which communication occurs.  Technology obviously has a direct effect on communication media.  This is what I'll focus on here.  I'll also speculate on the relationship between technology and communicated content.  Finally, I'll also wonder aloud about the relationship between changes in communication brought about by technology and culture.

Assuming there is no such thing as telepathy, communication is always mediated by the five physical senses.  Although it is certainly possible to communicate to some extent via taste, smell, and touch, communication is most commonly received via sight and hearing.  It is through sight and hearing that we communicate propositions, i.e. pieces of information that report facts and states of affairs.  Taste, touch, and smell, aren't so efficient at receiving these kinds of information, with the exception of the use of braille.  The aforementioned senses are more of the evocative variety.  They bring to mind certain kinds of experiences, but these experiences tend to be highly subjective.  Communication received via sight and hearing in the form of written and spoken language allow for some intersubjectivity between the participants of communication.

So, I'll be focusing on communication via language.  As mentioned above, language is employed either in either written or spoken form.  There are ways in which technology can affect the way in which language is transmitted.

Oral Language
Spoken language is constrained by the ability of the audience to hear the message.  Without technology, the speaker's audience is limited to those within earshot.  Technology can alleviate this constraint in a few ways.  First, it can amplify the volume of the spoken message so that the message is intelligible at further distances.  Examples include megaphones and public address systems.  Second, it can convert a spoken message to something else, transmit it, and reconvert it back to a spoken message available to any audience anywhere who possesses to the means to reconvert that message.  Examples include, radio, television, telephones, internet, etc.  With the advent of recording, a spoken message can reach anyone potentially anywhere at any time.

One effect that technology has on spoken language is that it separates the message from the physical interaction that usually comes with it.  Typically, a spoken message is given with the speaker and audience physically present.  With technology, neither party is required to by physically present when the message is given.  How does this affect culture?

Written Language
Of course, the fact that a message can reach an audience that is separated from the speaker by time and place has already been established by written language.  The advent of written language ushered in major changes in culture.  Messages can now be preserved across time and distributed across distant geographic locations.  How did this affect culture?

With respect to the written word, technology has different effect than it does with the spoken word.  Primitive ways of creating the written word were slow, costly, and difficult to distribute.  Think of messages engraved into stone.  As technology advances, these effects were ameliorated.  Paper made messages easier to distribute.  The printing press significantly lowered the cost of distribution.  Typewriters sped up the process of creating written messages.  How has this affected culture?  Are there significant ways in which culture differs because written messages can be created and distributed quickly and cheaply?

No comments:

Post a Comment