Human Relationships Redefined

Does the invention of a major communication system redefine society and human relationships?

“It was not, then mere historic accident that the Chicago Commodity Exchange, to this day the principal American futures market, opened in 1848, the same year the telegraph reached that city. In a certain sense the telegraph invented the future as a new zone of uncertainty and a new region of practical action” (Carey, 1989, p. 218).

James W. Carey in Chapter 8 of the book “Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society” (1989) asserts that the telegraph as a new major medium received validity, and had therefore become significant as a commodity, affecting people’s lives both commercially and personally.

When I read this text I thought about the effect of Internet technologies.  I could have replaced “telegraph” with “Internet Communication Technologies”, and still get the same validity of the message, in today’s context.

Carey’s coins “Transmission Model” (p. 204), which was a new model to think about communication, displacing older views of communications (i.e. religious) with practical theory of everyday life, mediated by technology.  The cultural shift deriving from the shortening of travel time for people (the railroad) affected the culture.  Therefore, Carey makes the connection between the telegraph, railroad and postal system.  Such commodities satisfied people’s new perception about communication efficiency, activity and cost.

The Internet has a similar effect on cultural and social perception in the sense that web communication revolutionized people’s perception on efficiency, activity and cost – both commercially and personally.  Today emails are considered a legal documentation, while increasing its credibility as a main channel of communication.  Much like the the telegraph of the 19th century, the ‘universalism’ of human relationships support such technological developments.

Current Internet technologies may include images, video, pop-up icons and acronyms within the message.  Therefore, there is a new possibility of “layering” an emotional expression on top of the raw text, extending the capacity of the message that the telegraph had – both in length of the message, time duration of delivery, place (i.e. mobile phone delivery), essentially re-shaping the culture of communications.

Such comparison between the telegraph and Internet technologies brings to mind the question of  “what comes first, the chicken or the egg?”  Does the cultural shift of society’s values and beliefs (emerging of new needs) triggers the emergence of new communication systems, or do technological developments emerge first, and gradually developing a new culture?  My opinion is that human relationships are being dynamically redefined first (as a result of pursue of control, among other factors), and communication technologies follow.  Ironically, it seems like systems could appear to be more sophisticated and “developed” than the human relationships it serve.

November 25, 2009. Tags: , , , . Columbia University Doctorate. 1 comment.

Reflections on my Origin and Nationalism

Family in Jerusalem

Jerusalem - "territorial and social space inherited from the prerevolutionary past"?

Here I am a young child in Jerusalem on a family trip, smelling the spices of the old city, feeling the sharp edges of the physically cold (and colorfully warm) nostalgic and ancient stone, making a connection to my community through stories about our nation’s history, struggles and victories… how could I not feel pride and responsibility for growing up Jewish in a declared Jewish State?

Benedict Anderson, in his book “Imagined Communities” (1983) argues that nationalism is a cultural artifact of a particular past, and that as such it has been legitimated with a profound emotional legitimacy.  Nationalism invents nations and communities, which is spread out much beyond a certain boundary of one nation.

According to Anderson, the cultural roots of nationalism have a strong affinity with religious imaginings.  Religion attempts to explain destiny.  Nationalism, with its two cultural systems (“religious community” and “dynastic realm”) are imaginable mainly through the medium of a sacred language and written script.

Reading this week’s text I remember growing up with the embrace of the Hebrew language as a part of my deeply-rooted culture.  It is our biblical (classical) language, our historical language, our scholarly language and our cultural Jewish language.  Even though less than seven million people speak the language on a daily basis, its sacredness and cultural meaning as a community signifier goes way beyond its numerical reach.

My life is filled with visual representations of the sacred community, available anywhere, anytime.  Whenever I need an injection of a sense of belonging I can read Israeli news in the Hebrew language on my mobile phone by one finger tap.  I live in New York City, raise American children, yet I still stand up silently every year for one minute in honor of Hebrew soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the Jewish Nation – I do it almost automatically.

Intellectually, it may be controversial to salute people who kill and sacrifice their lives for a piece of land, especially when knowing that the Middle East conflict is still alive and so painful (to people on both sides).  I wish I knew what to do to end this violent conflict.  On the other hand, the emotional aspect of nationalism that Anderson touches upon and its power to to connect people and thinking through cultural and historical context resonate with my sense of belonging to a Jewish and Israeli culture.

Additionally, Anderson claims that print-capitalism made it possible for more people to think about themselves, and to relate themselves to others in profoundly new ways.  I wonder whether new computer-mediated technologies change the way communities are imagined.  In my opinion, it does not change communal cultural bonding in a profound way.  People find their own “imagined communities” online in a similar manner that they do offline. Online social networks are just as “limited” as other communication networks.  As a professional Internet Marketer and Online Communications Developer who has attended various workshops and panel discussions debating digital communications I remember one message being highlighted within the industry – THINK GLOBAL, ACT LOCAL.  “Localized” messages reach people on a visceral level.

As Anderson writes on page 6: “All communities larger than primoridal villages of face-to-face contacy (and perhaps even these) are imagined. Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined”.

November 16, 2009. Columbia University Doctorate, Family. 4 comments.