Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey
The human race has undergone numerous changes over the centuries. Life span, height, fine motor skills, and other developments have helped us rise from simple cave-dwellers to what we have become today. Some argue pointedly that our facility to create technology has swept past the moral and ethical capability to control its usage. But the most profound evolution involves our ability to communicate.
Anthropologists hypothesize that the first spoken language appeared around 2.5 million years ago. But the development of written words didn’t come about for a very long time until the Sumerians produced their proto-version of cuneiform around 3500 BCE, with the Egyptians following about 200 years later. Clay tablets were the first media for this new form of expression and record-keeping. Animal skins, called “parchment,” gained favor in the 6th century BC. The Chinese invented paper around the 2nd century BC, and in its various forms has been the standard of publication since.
With the birth of the information age, words would be rendered electronically and stored on a silicon disc. And as computer software and processor capacity has grown, the required space for that storage has shrunk considerably to the point where the 8gigabyte mini SD card in my cell phone could hold, if my information is correct, some 1, 024,000 pages of text, all on a piece of media smaller than my pinky fingernail.
Scientists are telling us that in the very near future, even more efficient storage media will advance that incredible figure by several orders of magnitude.
Technology is leaping ahead almost faster than we can comprehend. Just in my lifetime things have drastically changed.
In the early 1980’s I was in the U.S. Navy, spending a good deal of time on the water half-way around the planet from home. Mail was a vitally important way to keep in touch with loved ones, but one that required patience. Letters would leave the ship on an irregular schedule, most times air-lifted by helicopter to another ship. We all held our breath as that bag swung through the air before it landed safely on the other flight deck. Eventually ,those bags would go on a delivery aircraft that would fly to an airport where the bags would be handed over to another conveyance for eventual shipment to the Fleet Post Office in San Francisco, where it would be distributed through the US Postal Service system to our loved ones. That was a journey that could take a couple of weeks in the best of circumstances.
In the study of the American Revolution, it is so important to remember that even the most critical communication between King and Colonies would take up to 6 months to be received and answered. And if that particular ship foundered in those brutal North Atlantic storms, those dispatches might not ever reach their intended recipient.
Even as late as the 1960’s national leaders could not simply pick up a telephone and talk directly to each other. That lack during the Cuban Missile Crisis nearly drew the human race into what surely would have been the last world war.
I think the moment at which I came to grips with the advance in communications was on a vacation trip to Las Vegas some fifteen years ago. I was waiting on a sidewalk along Las Vegas Boulevard when my cell phone rang. On the other end, my son had called to relay some piece of information which time has washed from my memory. We finished our conversation, but as I clicked off the phone and began to return it to my belt, I was struck by the enormity of what had just happened. My son had called from Seoul, Korea to my phone with a Missouri number in Las Vegas, his voice as clear and strong as if he had called from across the street.
It was truly a “wow” moment.
Our children are products of that instant age. They dragged us kicking and screaming into the modern era to the point where we text and email with casual familiarity. I still don’t tweet, because I find it simply impossible to be comprehensible in only 140 characters. When our daughter-in-law visits her family in Korea, we can, via webcam, see our lovely grandchildren, and they us by simply pushing a button. We both have Kindle E-readers that hold hundreds of books. We take entire libraries with us wherever we go, despite the annoyance of having to turn them off during takeoffs and landings.
Cell phones that fit in a shirt pocket have vastly more computing power than those warehouse-sized dinosaurs UNIVAC and ENIAC that represented the pinnacle of computing power in the 1950’s. Televisions, satellites, GPS…I could go on forever, but I think you get the gist.
What’s truly amazing to consider is that scientists and engineers tell us that what we find so amazing today will be outdated before the 2016 elections.
I remember a time when the future was predicted to be a time of universal prosperity, where everyone lived in a cute house in the suburbs and flew their own private helicopter to work. Of course, it never came true. But the speed of technological development, especially in how we communicate with each other is increasing exponentially. It’s no longer easy to predict what our lives will be like, good or bad, even 10 years from now, let alone 50 or 100 years into the future. Humans may have moved beyond the written or spoken word entirely and communicate with our brains alone.
However the future turns out, one thing I feel sure about is this:
It will be so much more than we can possibly imagine.