In my lifetime, I have witnessed the transformation of communication. When my grandparents were born, electronic communication meant telegrams. A couple of generations earlier, sending a letter from new York to san Francisco required writing a letter, getting it on a ship, and having it sail around South America, taking months. In rapid succession, we deployed railroads, telephones, highways/cars, airlines, data networks, and the Internet. The result is we can now send the same information that required months in less than the blink of an eye.
But, one aspect of this communication remained the same – you needed to know who you were communicating with and their address.
In the last few years, this has all changed! We can now communicate, individually or to a group, with people who we don’t know. The rise of social networks allows people to find others that they don’t know, but with whom they share an interest around the world! This has changed the definition of community. And the definition of “friend.”
I think it will take many years to understand all of the impacts of this profound change in communication.
At the tip of the iceberg, we see the revolts in the Arab world in North Africa, where dissenters used Facebook to organize and communicate.
I saw the precursor of this in Eastern Europe and Russia (actually the Soviet Union) in the late 1980s. When visiting frequently on business, some of my colleagues would ask me to bring blank video tapes (pre-recorded video tapes were seized on entry!). I didn’t understand this at first, until I was taken to a “secret” video exchange market, where you would bring a blank video tape and pay some money to get a current-run Western movie. It gave the populace the ability to see Western culture, values, etc. I believe it was a contributing factor in the changes that later swept that part of the world. The Internet and Facebook is a much more potent force for knowledge, freedom, and understanding.
We live in a time of sweeping change.