Dp. a different view of the communications revolution

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  • 1. A DIFFERENT VIEW OF<br />“THE COMMUNICATIONS REVOLUTION”:<br />IT’S REALLY THE EINSTEINIUM REVOLUTION.<br />Imagine that four million years ago, the earliest hominids somehow came to the conclusion that although walking on two legs was a great asset and differentiator from all other creatures, it would be even better to use two legs and a third long arm that stretched to the ground and would help them gain great speed and go longer distances. Now imagine that four million years later (current day) that third arm was perfected and it became possible for us to move at great speed. Imagine also that everyone’s attention was captured by and riveted on a new glove that was being heavily promoted because it protected the hand of that third arm and made it look beautiful in the process. But, while the new glove captivated everyone, the evolutionary and revolutionary breakthrough of the third arm itself was ignored. I think that is analogous to what is happening with the hominid’s other great differentiator from all other creatures: the ability to communicate at a very different level.<br />Today, discussions about “The Communications Revolution” center on social networks, new media, wireless communications and other communications tools. Whereas those innovations are having dramatic consequences, I think that by focusing on infrastructure change and the benefits they deliver we are misunderstanding and underestimating the significance of the Communications Revolution. Instead of infrastructure changes, as potent as they are, I think the Communications Revolution is part and parcel of a much more significant global cultural revolution that also includes the worldwide shift from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy, as consequential as the shift from an agrarian to a manufacturing economy; even more significantly, I think it’s also part and parcel with a shift in the human’s worldview that is as epochal as the Copernican Revolution: the emergence of the Einsteinium Revolution. Just as the Copernican Revolution killed the human’s very fundamental view that they lived in the absolute unchanging center of the universe around which all else revolved, the Einsteinium Revolution is in the process – the early stages – of killing the human’s very fundamental view that time and space are two different things. [NB: By identifying this as “The Einsteinium Revolution” I do not intend to get into a discussion about the role of Einstein and his writings, etc. I’m relating this to Einstein because of his view that time and space are combined as one not as two separate phenomenon. I think that means, by implication, that death and time as we have known them are dead – the same way the human’s worldview was changed very fundamentally when Copernicus and Galileo and others redefined the structure of the universe.]<br />The human animal can’t go through such fundamental changes easily. It would be impossible to go to bed Wednesday night with a Pre-Copernican worldview and wake up Thursday morning with a Post-Copernican worldview. Such changes take a massive amount of time (even when moving at Internet speed). And such changes do not come without massive turmoil of the most fundamental nature.<br />To put this in context, I think we have to go back four million years or so, at the time hominids began to communicate. According to research led by Michael Tomasello of the Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, hominids began to communicate even before they had larger brains and very possibly before they could make sounds. They used pantomime and pointing. This was far beyond what any other creature has ever done, much different than screeches and other communications of alerts and warnings. Here’s a simple example Tomasello uses from what I believe to be an extraordinarily important book: “The Origins of Human Communication”: Sit at a bar and point to an empty glass in front of you and the bartender will know you want it filled; point at the glass when it is teetering at the edge of the bar, and the bartender will know you’re suggesting he move it. No other creature can communicate at such a cognitive level and with similar “shared intentionality.”<br />But there is a core problem with pantomime as a form of communication. It is tyrannized by time and space. You have to be in view of each other at the same exact time to communicate. It seems to me that somewhere along the time, the human animal decided to overcome those limiting factors and began a quest to eliminate the impact of time and space on their ability to communicate. They set out to create the equivalent of what a third arm would be to bipedalism. After four million years – today – victory can be declared. The humans won. Time and space no longer exert dramatic influence on human communications, and to the degree that they do, that remaining influence is eroding quickly.<br />I think we can look to the history of the development of communications systems and technologies to validate my point. We’ve seen the ability to expand the range of communications evolve from smoke signals and loud sounds to more than four billion people in every corner of the world watching the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. We’ve mail morph from a communications system available to only a few privileged people and requiring days and weeks to reach their recipient to the Pony Express, quickly replaced by the telegraph and ultimately replaced by e-mail and texting. Paintings on cave walls evolved to the printing press to the Kindle. Pamphlets in the French and American Revolutions evolved to twitter in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Is there a common denominator in all this progress? Couldn’t it be that step-by-step, all communications advances have been about eliminating the power that space and time have exerted on communications?<br />As this trend has occurred, space and time have become less significant to humans. I think that this reduction in the relative importance of space and time has been a prerequisite for the human to develop a new Einsteinium worldview. This will be a worldview dramatically different than the way humans now see the world. It is beyond me – and, actually, I do not think necessary at this time – to predict exactly how this new worldview will change the way we live and behave and organize ourselves. What I do think is important, however, is that we recognize that the “Communications Revolution” is truly an integral piece of the much more significant Einsteinium Revolution. <br />In this context, the shift from the Manufacturing Economy to the Knowledge Economy assumes much greater importance. One of the primary characteristics of the shift from the Agrarian Economy to the Manufacturing Economy was that work – human enterprise – moved indoors and productivity became measured by the amount of time required to accomplish something. Why should we believe that those changes became immutable for all time? Why should we believe that the workplace needs to be an office or a factory any more than early industrialists had to believe that the workplace had to be outside and dependent on the weather? Why should we believe that time is money any more than early industrialists had to be driven by the cycles of the sun and weather conditions? Why should our balance sheet convey (as it does now) that hard assets (property, plant and equipment that depreciate over time) are more valuable than soft assets (individual and collective intellectual property that appreciate over time)?<br />So people today can work anywhere at anytime. And communications can be one-to-one or one-to-many and can be synchronic and asynchronic. These trends will accelerate. As they do, additional nails will be pounded into the coffins of time and space. The shift to the Knowledge Economy thereby is also integral to the Einsteinium Revolution.<br />If this analysis has even the potential of being only somewhat correct, then we need (“just in case”) to start looking at what is happening – and what should happen – in this different context. As urged by Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell in their 1955 Manifesto, “we have to learn to think in a new way.” For example, what can we learn from all the change that is swirling around us when we try to understand them in the context of a shift in basic human fundamentals rather than just economic or social or political fundamentals? What can we learn if we changed our thinking to focus on the type of very fundamental questions that arose from the Copernican Revolution and are emerging now, as space and time die and the Einsteinium Revolution alters our worldview?<br />