A DEBATE WAS HELD in the House of Lords recently, proposed by Baroness Susan Greenfield, in which their lordships worried about the effect that modem communications were having on people, particularly young people.
It was argued that they were reading less and less and becoming more fixated by ‘instant’ communications and that they are less willing to meet physically, preferring to rely on electronic networking, instant messaging and mobile phone texting to keep in touch with each other.
Professor Greenfield speculated about the effects that constant electronic communications, at an average of 6.5 hours per day, might have on the human brain.
Normally, you can rely on the House of Lords to conduct relatively sensible debates, but in this case theft lordships demonstrated just how out of touch they are with modern life, because the brave new world that the younger generation is living in is undoubtedly the future — and the effect, I believe, is generally positive.
Instead of lots of pointless hanging around in cafés or youth clubs, as previous generations used to do, today’s kids are permanently connected with each other. They are able to build complex societies and groupings and share so much of their experiences. With websites such as MySpace and FaceParty they can create virtual meeting places where they can share their particular interests with each other, make and share music, messages and videos.
After all, evolution designed humans to communicate freely with one another in various formal and informal groups, usually in small local tribes.
It is only relatively recently, in the last couple of hundreds of years or so, that we have spread these natural links beyond local groups and formalised this communication into the written word through books, newspapers and magazines.
But it is not the natural order of things. Gutenberg could have been accused of a much more disruptive technology than the one that is now sweeping civilisation, given that people needed to learn to read and write in order to use his invention, an adaptation that took hundreds of years to achieve.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who developed the World Wide Web, wanted it to become a genuinely two-way communication medium, but for the first decade or so it remained mostly a publishing mechanism. Now; with the rapid growth of community spaces, blogs and wilds it is becoming genuinely democratic, with ‘content’ increasingly coming from users.
In South Korea the Ohmi News online newspaper is as big as any large newspaper site with 700,000 visitors a day. But it employs no journalists, relying on contributions from its community Podcasting, where anyone is able to create the equivalent of radio programs without the trouble or cost of setting up a radio transmitter, is booming — iTunes lists over 20,000 podcasts. Kids today think nothing of posting sounds and video to their internet space —after all it’s just information and it is easy to do.
Despite the worries of their lordships, I’m sure that we are entering a hugely exciting new phase of civilisation, where people are able to gather, independent of geography, and develop their own lively communities.