Global Articulation

Think bigCatching up on my e-reading this morning, a post at reminded me, again, of the influence of the new global communication made possible by your friend and mine, Technology. As the article's title implies, Dateline Davos: The Shifting Power Equation has to do with the redistribution of power due to technological advances—specifically, in this case, the wedding of communications systems and computers.

The shift that has caught my attention, however, is that from computing systems that communicate to communication systems that compute. The implications for technology vendors are straightforward but dramatic.

Technology vendors aside, this shift first caught my attention with the advent of cellular telephone systems in the early eighties. Although the voice channels, at that time, were still very much a part of the traditional analog world, the rest of the operation relied on digital signaling and processing, and therefore computers. The individual cells were linked by central controllers that orchestrated the handing-off process from one cell to another as the phones moved through space, but the phones themselves also relied on the digital flow of commands to and from the cell with which they were in contact. The cells, for example, instructed the phones to increase or decrease their power levels based on signal strength and advised of impending transfers to the next cell, which often involved a switch from one channel to another. Rudimentary processing to be sure, but then, there were less than 700 voice channels to deal with in those days, and not a lot of cells—or cell-phone users for that matter—to contend with. Still, they were communications systems first and computers second; any digital processing that occurred was in service to the primary goal of enabling voice communication by telephone.

Probably the most striking shift, as I recall, was from calling a location to calling a person. Unless the person happened to be carrying a two-way radio, calling someone on the phone really meant calling a physical location, such as a house or workplace. That concept has largely evaporated now, thanks to our ubiquitous wireless devices, and the growing network of access points that make their everyday use feasible. But typically, a phone only enables communication to and from a rather limited subset of the world's population; most of us still use a phone to talk with friends and business associates, not to make random calls to unknown people somewhere on the planet. Instant messaging—or e-mail for that matter—whether that's done on a handheld wireless device or with the aid of the computer tethered to the table at home or at work is used in much the same way, although of course the possibility exists to use this type of communication with a much wider audience in mind. Unlike voice communication by phone, it's easy to establish a dialogue with the inhabitants of the planet at large, instead of only those we happen to know.

To me, the most important result of this global connectivity is the opportunity to exchange ideas, and not just with those we know. I mean new ideas, foreign ideas, things that make us look at the world and its people from a new vantage point. The opportunity is certainly there; we have the tools; we have the technology. The only thing standing in the way, maybe, is a reluctance to communicate our ideas. Communicating facts is useful—it's good to be informed—but it isn't quite the same thing. It's harder to communicate ideas than it is to relay the news, but it has to start somewhere. I think there are far too many who do an awful lot of reading, but still haven't made the decision to reverse the process and start putting those great ideas out there on the Net so we can see them. To paraphrase Mr. Moore, you're at a premium, but you have to be willing to participate.

The ability both to create and promulgate such memes and to recognize when a meme is acting upon you or one of your constituents is core to being effective in this new reality. A connected world places an enormous premium on people who are fluent in communications: expressing ideas, positioning offers, inferring power relationships, decoding nuances, deflecting the manipulations of others. We are witnessing the rise of the articulate and the marginalization of the inarticulate, whether in our political and business leaders or in our leading brands and most favored Internet sites.

So how about it? Where's that blog—or similar project—you've been putting off? You don't want to be marginalized by inarticulation, do you? 


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