As I noted in my last article, we are living in an amazing time in history. In my opinion, what we’re experiencing now will leave an indelible mark upon our world, our nation, and our families. Some of the changes on the horizon will be good. Others will not. Last time, I talked about the resurgence of self-reliance and minimalism.
In this article, I want to discuss our changing communication landscape. We tend to assume that communication is what it is and has always been this way. Some kids nowadays cannot imagine a world without a device. Here, hold my cell phone and travel back in time with me for a bit.
In times past, most people could not read. They communicated by talking. In these “oral societies,” people talked more. They entertained each other with songs, poems, interesting stories, and humor. In these oral societies, people’s brains processed information differently. They had better memories.
For example, in the Old Testament times, many of the Jews had memorized all five books of the law (called the Pentateuch). That’s basically the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I can’t even remember my wife’s phone number and am absolutely dependent upon my speed dial.
I used to think there was something wrong with me because I had a bad memory. But then I realized, we all do. We are all products of our environment. While doing research on oral societies and communication theory, I realized that in an oral society people listened “better” and they remembered better. Their brains were wired to do so.
With the introduction of written language, and symbolic convergence, came the ability to immortalize and verify communication. But, because reading and writing were considered a luxury, they were exclusively utilized by the ruling class who had power and wealth. In addition, scrolls were very expensive, and documents had to be copied by hand (monks didn’t just pray all the time you know).
The Gutenberg printing press changed everything. Documents could be mass produced and shared with a larger audience. Written material could be widely disseminated. All kinds of information could be mass produced. This changed everything. One of the results of the printing press was the Protestant Reformation as the common people were able to read the Scriptures for themselves.
But all of this information was big and bulky and had to be carried by mouth or by hand. Not only was it bulky, but it was slow. For example, in 1760, it took six weeks for news of King George II’s death to reach the colonists in America. Some advances were made by the Pony Express and eventually, the train, but it was still too slow.
The telegraph, introduced in the mid-1800s, gave birth to the electronic age. Samuel Morse’s first message sent was, “What has God wrought?” The bigger question was, perhaps, what would this mean? This shift changed everything. Information could now be sent over a wire and opened up the door for immediate information to travel coast to coast. But the problem was the wire.
Nobody likes to be tied to a wire.
Wireless technology led to the invention of mass communication technology like radio and television. Not only was communication instant, but it was also primarily a visual medium. Reading was one thing. Seeing it was quite another. Communication research has constantly shown that we believe what we see over what we hear as nonverbal communication is about 70% of our communication. But, radio and TV demanded a venue. Who has time to sit in front of the radio and wait for the Lone Ranger to come on?
The digital age was born. This was the age of the computer and computer-based technology which led to personal computers, phones, and tablets. Connected to this technology was the ability, not only to view things, “live and in color,” we could also record audio and visual images in a digital environment, share them forever in cyberspace, and listen on demand.
With every age, communication methods changed--and those methods changed everything. So, what does that have to do with us and COVID-19?
Well, one of the things that this time period has taught us is that we desperately need one another. Or, at least we need a segment of the population. At this time, our communication has gone from being “wide” to a little “deeper.” We have become aware of what is most important—our family and friends. We’ve also learned that we need to be cognizant of various methods of communication. Zoom was not a part of my vocabulary until recently.
I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but I sense that communication and delivery systems will change the way we do just about everything. Let me mention four:
First, I believe, that in the days ahead, we’ll realize how valuable face-to-face communication is, but we’ll be on the lookout for alternate ways to communicate. We don’t want to be caught off guard, again. Maybe they’ll invent smell-o-vision and virtual environments where you can digitally reach out and touch someone (the technology is already here). In other words, we will spend more F2F time with the people we love and look for alternate means of connecting with other people and entities on a deeper level.
Second, we will question our need to go “out” more than we have to—especially in flu season. Recently, my family has done some shopping online and had groceries delivered to our home. My wife, who has always been reluctant to allow strangers to pick out our tomatoes, has seen the value. She orders, uses an app to follow the person who is shopping for us (and knows exactly how long that milk has been sitting in the cart), and texts back and forth with our shopper.
Why go to the store when the store will come to you? And while we’re on that, does that store need to be down the street or could it be a warehouse in a centralized location? Amazon saw this shift many years ago. Now if we can just get those drones to work.
Third, larger businesses that have been forced to close their doors and have employees work from home will fervently look for ways to minimize brick and mortar costs and conduct business in a virtual environment. They have learned how fragile our economy is and how a virus can change everything. They are making plans now to ensure their survival and that survival may not be in a building.
Finally, although it may not be immediate, our educational landscape will change. I see two major changes. First, educational facilities, who in my estimation reacted brilliantly to the need to conduct education in an online environment, will be proactive about the future of online education. Because of governmental oversight and funding, this shift will involve measures of control, but it will happen—eventually.
In addition, parents will change. During this epidemic, many parents discovered that they appreciated the opportunity to better guide the education of their child and worked in cooperation with their local child’s teacher in a digital environment. True, some parents simply cannot wait until their kids go back to school. They need to get back to work and just need their kids to be in a structured learning environment. However, some parents have seen the value of personally guiding their child’s educational destiny.
I believe there will be a slow shift to more parents who homeschool and those who choose a virtual education hybrid. These parents are beginning to think about some important issues and have noticed some inequities in education. For example, some parents from different cities and regions have talked on social media about the educational expectations for their child. Some kids have structured learning while some kids were told to read several books.
Some parents, not wanting their child to fall behind, have chosen to supplement their child’s education. They are now asking some deep questions. They recognize that, simply put, a child’s education is a relationship that is dependent upon the parent, the child, the educational facility, and the local teacher (and, of course, governmental standards and oversight). Some parents want more control and don’t want to limited to a particular brick and mortar building.
In the digital future, it could be, that, for some students, education will not be tied to a city or zone. They will cut the wire. They will not go to school. School will come to them. The focus will be upon completing required educational objectives, but also specialization. Maybe you’ve noticed, in recent years, that parents are “into” early and targeted learning. Naturally, they want their children to “succeed” and they’re watching education programs and having their children play learning games on their devices.
On the horizon, it could be, that parents will integrate home learning with some sort of digital educational facility that is designed to empower their child’s individual needs and learning styles to produce a targeted product. Why sit in a classroom when you can gain individualized learning in a synchronous (live) or asynchronous (Memorex) learning environment? The goal is not education, but assimilation into the workforce.
To illustrate, if your fifth grader wants to be an architect, we’ve got a learning track for that. We teach you the required stuff and also integrate targeted learning from professionals in the field. This learning will not be by location, but tied to financial means.
Naturally, all of this is speculation and off in the distance. And, of course, it will be dependent upon the health of our economy and governmental oversight and control. While I’m on that topic, next week I’ll finish up my thoughts on this time in history by talking about Big Brother, religion, and the Mark of the Beast.
Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech, and freelance writer.