On Social Change and Communication Technology

The real change, to me, is in the advancing availability of communication technology.

Yes, we’ve had communication technology before. When the telegraph was cutting edge, alongside its use for official-sounding business, it was privately re-purposed by whoever had access. One Wild West use was as a sort of an underground gossip network between potential lovers, sometimes with the scheming help of matchmaking relatives. No kidding.

People have a thing about communication and expression. Maybe it’s written in our DNA that we absolutely have to express and connect. That doesn’t say we’re going to do anything about messages that fly back and forth. That’s up to the individual, and on the level of just being able to speak, the individual who speaks has already done enough.

Little voices don’t have to make big change, but isn’t it fascinating when, together, they might show us a climate of possibility?

I heard that a few years ago, in China at the time of Tiananmen, there was a run on a new-ish technological gizmo known as the FAX machine. Traditional media was tightly controlled or at least closely watched. With a fax, a letter or a picture could go long distances in minutes. Time and date stamps can be cut off of printouts, which gets you an anonymous bit of insurgency to pass on, a business communique, or news from family – dealer’s choice. I suppose that someone clever can clear a machine’s memory. With a fax, sent in this way, along with efficiency there is at once privacy and intimacy.

The FAX itself is an object that did not change anything. The individual faxes may or may not have had any influence on anything. The possibility of the potential was important enough to create motivated buyers, for the right person in the right situation. The same could be said for revolutionary ideas, or even a good hug.

Running water does not create cleanliness.

Twitter won’t make social change.

Potential happens in the mind.

There’s a science fiction story about a bug that was accidentally squashed by time travelers, creating a chain of events that changed the world. This is a romantic and frightening idea. And there’s no doubt that a plan has more of a chance of enabling a goal than bugs that get squished along the way when there is the lack of a plan. But, the idea that I can communicate something worthwhile by stringing together letters using this computer thingy has kept me here at my desk writing this post, and I like that I can do this.

I don’t have to be part of an organized movement on its way to accomplishing change to feel that I have done something good just by being here.


p.s. My @quotesnack Twitter avatar will be green for a while. I won’t pick sides, but I will support the people (and a free media,) in my stubborn inconsequential way, from my position here as a butterfly wing on the face of the Internet.

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