Two principle dimensions are discussed in this book: communications and human society. The term, communications, is used in a very broad manner to encompass media, telecommunication links, the computer, transportation, and even the so-called multinational corporation as a vehicle of the communication process. It is a commonplace observation to say that technology, including electronic communications technology, is "neutral"; in the sense that, for example, a telephone may be used to promote either conflict or harmony. The use of such technology, however, gives us a lifestyle considerably different from that of primitive man. The manner in which we organize such technology can lead to quite differing effects; a communications system can foster either passive involvement or active participation. And until we reach a state of global technical standardization, the mere choice of a particular country s technology, by another, tends to carry with it also a receipt of the originating countrys software -- and thus its value system (16). Technology is thus intricately involved in the question of values.

Values are held by men. Each of us has his or her individual value system, a coherent or even contradictory ranking of preferences (65). Groups also have value systems, discoverable on a statistical basis. Values are arrived at in a most complex manner, involving not only biological needs but also the manner in which we perceive our environment and interact with it (17). Values are in a continuous process of change, slow or rapid, depending upon the relative impact of our past (which includes childhood experience), our present, and our perception of the future. We express our values, in part, in the manner in which, collectively, we structure our societies. Restructuring a society is at most times an extremely difficult task (18). There is thus a lag between new values and an older system. There may also be a difference between verbalized values and values put into practise. The United Nations Charter reflects a value system of world cooperation; the reality is quite otherwise.

In the two following chapters, we will explore the web of human society, particularly as a vehicle for the expression of values. In subsequent chapters, we will further explore the relationship between communications technology and society. At this point, however, we first consider some preliminary points of information and caution. These points could perhaps be raised elsewhere in the text, but it is convenient to table them at the start - begging the reader's indulgence, and trusting it will encourage a "systems" manner of thinking for what follows thereafter.

The computer: from the mundane to the mondial

In recent years there have been a host of books and articles dealing with the present and future possible uses of the computer, and with developments in telecommunications which make it possible for men and computers to interact over vast distances. Presumably the reader will have read some of this literature (an excellent example is James Martin, Telecommunications and the Computer, Prentice-Hall, 1969), and it is not necessary to explain the process-supervising capacities of the analog computer, or the information-processing and storage capacities of other computers. The computer can store information, correlate information, and present it to us in accordance with predetermined priorities. It can do all of this at rapid speed. When a booking clerk asks the computer whether there is space on a flight from London to Los Angeles, he gets the answer immediately: in real time. The computer operates so rapidly that it seems to us that it simultaneously answers the questions of booking clerks throughout the airline's system.

In some ways, computers "merely" add a new dimension to existing problems. For example, when one country's data is stored in another, we may have a further extension of the problem of communications "colonialism." The International (i.e., North American) Association of Police Chiefs, in deciding to establish a data-clearing operation centered on Washington, unwittingly erodes Canadian autonomy. So does the Canadian-based commercial enterprise such as a credit bureau which feeds its data to storage in the United States; storage which may be tapped by agencies of government. Similarly, the computer simplifies that task of public personnel agencies wishing to compile files on potential employees and consultants. Such files may be carefully compiled, or stupidly so (19). As the saying goes: garbage in/garbage out.

The computer opens new possibilities to society, and thereby faces us with the question of whether we want to actually do things which previously could only be imagined. There has been proposed in Vancouver, Canada, for example, a community talent pool -- an organization to compile a dossier bank of unusual talent to service the occasional needs of operations such as continuing education programs. Such a bank would not require computerization. A country-wide operation, a Talent-Canada or Talent-America, would be very difficult to manage without computerization. A world alliance of community talent pools would be inconceivable without the computer (and much greater mobility of temporary labour than is presently permitted).

At times the word computer is used in the singular, when the context would indicate a class rather than a particular machine. At times, the word is used in the plural. Such ambiguity is understandable, even if a trifle annoying. At present, computers come in many sizes and contexts, from the device in a guidance-system gyro to the extensive equipment of a military warning system. Some computers are inter-connected; the vast majority operative in isolation from each other. At present, computers have been utilized in a relatively small variety of possible applications. There are a host of practical problems to be solved if the computer is to be used as visualized in this book. The following three possibilities, are already a partial reality in existing communication systems. (A fourth will be discussed in a later section of this chapter).

First the computer can facilitate the complex switching required in multi-channel, multi-directional communication systems. The telephone system, in its social effect, is a decentralized or multi-directional system. Instead of passively turning a dial, and receiving whatever the TV set has to offer, the telephone user himself determines to whom he will speak. The computer will facilitate instant global telephonic communication of a much more sophisticated type than presently common. Already computerized exchanges permit the user, engaged in one conversation, to be warned that another caller is also trying to reach him on the same line, etc. These newer exchanges are more readily installed in small communities, or communities lacking an existing heavy investment in older equipment (e.g., the tiny community of Wellington, B.C., has such computerized equipment; metropolitian Vancouver does not). If future communication systems become multi-channel, as well as multi-directional, and if they are extended to the less-developed countries, these countries will technologically (economics is another matter) have the opportunity to install better equipment than the present leading countries, which have a heavy investment in outdated technology.

A second important potential use of the computer is that of translation. Translation between languages; and translation or transformation from one mode of communication -- one media -- to another. With respect to language translation, it is not necessary for the computer to be able to translate poetry. More readily feasible is the capacity of the computer to translate simplified metalanguage; and perhaps a metalanguage, used for such basic trade operations as placing an order, will develop within each ethnic tongue. An alternative to the use of the computer as language translator is the global adoption of a common second language, such as Esperanto.

With respect to the computer as translator of media modes, we visualize the use of its substitution capacities for the transformation of one type of signal into another. Such signal transformation is a commonplace of electronic technology, of course. Voice waves are transformed by the microphone into an electronic stream, and can then be transformed to a visual projection of such waves on the surface of a display screen. A photograph can be optically scanned and its features translated into digital form for computer storage. What we do not yet have available is the universal machine, capable of giving us translation from any media input to any other media output -- videotape in, film out. We are able to make such specific translations, but presently do so on a direct basis without intervening storage. The development of such a universal machine is well within present technical capabilities and some such translation occurs, of course, at every input-output device of the computer. The universal machine would give us enhanced facility, storage, and editing capabilities (55).

Thirdly, the term "universal machine" can be visualized in yet another sense. We can visualize the linkage of computer systems on a global basis, so that stored data and specific operations can be dialed-up throughout the universal system. The universal system would thus be composed of computers and telecommunication links. Such a system is not feasible given the present political structure of world society. It would be strongly rejected as communications "colonialism", given the present location and control of the most important equipment (including data banks). But we already have one relatively "universal" system with telephonic intercontinental direct dialing. Other "universal" systems include those of cooperating international airlines. The barriers to more rapid universalization are political and economic, rather than technical (19b).

We should be grateful the barriers are there, to the extent they give us time to come to grips with the problems presented by computerized systems, The design of a computerized system incorporates basic norms, presently decided upon by top management and system designers. Such norms can place people on a procrustean bed. In the Greek legend, Procrustes required his guests to sleep on a standardized bed; if their legs were too long, he cut them to fit the size of the bed, and if too short, he would stretch them. When we are told that a proposed course of action is unacceptable, "because the computer system isn't designed that way," we become the captives of our technology -- rather than its masters.

A computerized system can be paternalistic, as when a passenger-listing system is able to commununicate such details as the time for passenger X to receive a special diet, and for passenger Y to be met with a wheel-chair at journey's end. But we want more than paternalism; we want participation in the process of deciding what sonic systems will do or not do, what they will include or exclude. The democratization of system design is a major task facing us as more and more computer systems spring up around us. System design must become the concern of all, and not the exclusive domain of a priesthood. (And the task of the priests is helped, not hindered, by participation; in that it gives a sense of responsibility to the participants).

Cybernation: a note on economics

The average human being has a much greater capacity for relatively sophisticated handling of technology than is usually realized. Given the poverty of audio-visual techniques and the lack of computer-assisted Instruction in past education, it was easy enough to underestimate the capabilities of the average person who may not have responded well to learning from the book or podium. Illiterate Eskimaux have been taught to operate complex construction machinery, drilling equipment, and how to fly light aircraft. Illiterate Australian bushmen have been taught to operate radio transceivers. Children in the television era readily take to the operation of tape recorders and the understanding manipulation of CAl keyboards. Adolescents, often with only average grades in school, have learned how to infiltrate pre-ESS (electronic switching system) telephone systems and place free calls around the world. Average intelligence suffices to learn computer languages of the simpler variety.

From this optimistic base, some observers jump to the conclusion that cybernation (self-regulating automation, the marriage of computer to advanced technology) will not deprive human beings of employment. They visualize ordinary people turning to the tasks of computer programming which, for a wide order of tasks, requires the lengthy compilation of fairly simple, routine steps (19c). In this respect, their optimism may be premature because the computer itself may be developed to the point where it could take on many of these tasks through a process of artificial quasi-intelligence.

In any event, the question still remains to what extent the average man's gifts of skill and knowledge will be needed in a cybernated economy? The debate is an extension of the automation question (20). The advance of industrialization and automation in technologically-advanced countries has not as yet led to massive unemployment; on the contrary, the growth in job positions available has roughly paralleled the expansion of the labour force. At the same time, however, we have developed a core of people in the poverty class who seem rejected by the technological economy, and it is questionable whether even with more sophisticated training methods we could subsequently put them to work in technologically-oriented operations. It should also be noted that the expansion of skilled jobs in the advanced countries has been made possible by largely holding the rest of the world to the role of "hewer of wood, and drawer of water;" a role which it is loath to rest with. Furthermore, we have seen in recent years a growth in unemployment amongst such professions as teaching and even nursing, in the advanced economies; unemployment which reflects our unwillingness or seeming inability to lessen the professional: client ratio (the solution of sending such professionals to the developing countries must be tempered by the desire of such countries to develop their own professional categories)(20b). In short, the successes of industrialization and early automation are no guarantee of continued traditional employment patterns.

A pessimistic minority worries, in the words of a US Senate study, about the possibility of "a stratified society consisting of a small number of menials performing at low wages functions not worth mechanizing, a few skilled workers and technicians working short hours for substantial incomes, and a scarce supply of highly-talented, highly-educated policymakers seriously overworked in attempting to solve the problems of civilization. The mass of people would be capable of no productive contribution and would be furnished income and activity as a substitute for employment (21)."

An alternative optimism would redefine "productive contribution" to include such possibilities as the menage a trois or communal family in which the members work limited outside shifts (the Lange corporation has taken a step in this direction with a four-day week) and devote a high degree of attention to the rearing of a very limited number of siblings, or engage in services such as the production of handicrafts. The Canadian "opportunities for work" program of 1971 included individualized handicraft apprenticeship within its parameters. Despite the reproaches of the more conventional society, the "counter-culture" is making at times painful experiments on behalf of all, in directions away from the centralized office-warren and factory.

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