Back in sunny summer of 2006 (a decade ago. Really?) when I had enrolled into the CCIT program and began my studies the abbreviation of the program words really puzzled me.
“Communication Culture & Information Technology”.
I really didn’t understand what that meant.
I had some vague idea of what IT was and I guess I knew what the word ‘communication’ meant but when those 4 words were put in a sentence they literally meant nothing to me.
5 Years later, upon graduation I had a decent idea of what they meant, but now, another 5 years later of digging deep into hands on software design, digital marketing and mere observance of the evolution of humanity I feel like I really understand it.
“The message is the medium”. Marshall McLuhan
The CCIT Program at UofT Mississauga that I had graduated from had been founded by the great Marshall McLuhan, a really wise man who very early on understood the separation of the technology and the actual message as well as the unification between them.
The way that any ‘medium’ is used over time forms a ‘culture’ in which the ‘communication’ occurs and ends up almost defining what the ‘messages’ transmitted through the system are.
The isolated capability of the technology is absolutely irrelevant here.
Back in the early days of technology – I had some assumptions about the rise of the internet era which have been entirely shattered.
Here are a few:
- The decentralisation and democratisation of content creation and distribution would lead to a better society through enhanced flows of contextualised information.
- The quality of life across the world would be improved through the spread of education and technological innovations in spheres like healthcare, engineering and science.
- ‘Tech startups’ and ideas would be a new wave of business thinking. Lean methodologies. Flat company structures. Effective team effort.
- Authoritarian forms of government would inevitably be ‘evolved’ into non-existence. Knowledge about things like government spending, foreign and domestic policy would be a topic of common knowledge and discussion.
Boy, was I wrong.
I had the ‘internet centrism’ bug and gladly I cured myself from it.
Technology in off itself is inherently neutral, this much is common knowledge, but the way that is used is something that cannot actually be planned or even predicted.
Giving humanity a tool like youtube or Facebook is something like giving a child a knife.
He might stab himself in the eye, or he might cook himself a perfectly prepared salad. Its more likely he’ll do the former, before he learns to do the latter.
Continuing the example of youtube, the ultimate content democratisers, what do we see?
A documentary on nanotechnology or the cure for some exotic disease will have a fraction of views compared to videos of cats falling over.
Unfortunately its impossible to get an accurate number, but I am certain that if you took the amount of traffic that is used on watch cat videos and porn, it would probably account for 50% of all world wide traffic.
Does that click?
Even though ‘youtube’ is inherently unbiased, which btw also is not true, the ‘culture’ formed by people of using it primarily rests of silly videos, jokes, music videos and other generally non productive and non developmental messages.
What about Facebook?
I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t regret the amount of time he spends on Facebook or who can confidently say that he or she gets any actual ‘knowledge’ from the platform.
It plays on what is almost a ‘flaw’ of human nature. Curiosity, greed, lust, jealousy and procrastination.
Even though it can be used for publication of scientific papers, theoretically, the ‘medium’ and the ‘culture’ around it dictate the type of communication that occurs within it and its far from useful or enlightening.
Sadly, most communication platforms on the web have not managed to foster a culture around deep and meaningful dialogue, despite virtually all of them having the technological means to do it.
The main take-away that members of my generation need to recognise is that there is no pre-defined distribution and acceptance of technology, neither is there are any pre-defined ways in which any technology will actually be used – regardless of the technical capabilities instilled with it.
The recognition of this is very important and it greatly shapes how we see the world.
Every app that you install, every URL you open, every minute you spend watching a video and every click you place in a way shapes the world around you and demonstrates your ‘support’ for a certain idea of concept to exist.
If we simply allow this selection process to happen on a subconscious level, we will be led down a path reflective of our core human fallacies – and our time allocation to technology will be a reflection of that.
Like with most companies, industries and even people – the formative years are the most defining and need to be paid special attention to.
Those formative years are upon as now and we need to recognise that the future depends on each one of us as much as the other.