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Extinction By Communication?

There is far too much communication going on. In fact, there is so much communication going on that SOMETHING has GOT to give sooner or later. It’s against all laws of nature for people to be THIS connected – across countries and continents, across timelines and most definitely across personal boundaries.

We moan about our stress levels, about how our time is not our own anymore, about lack of personal space. And it makes as much sense as moaning about pollution, which we do all the time – almost in the spirit of “Nature is not what it used to be”.

No, Nature is most certainly not what it used to be and air pollution is most certainly killing us. That’s because we have gone against all its laws and ensured that no matter how much Nature tries, it cannot clean up the noxious airborne cesspools above our cities. And as we all know, something has got to give on a larger front sooner or later, and I don’t mean just dying of emphysema. Sooner or later, the whole bloody system is going to break down.

What has this got to do with communication? Everything. There is communication pollution of pandemic proportions on the loose today, as well.

Picture, just for a moment, a scenario in which all invisible bands of ether and cable-borne communication in use today became visible for just a few minutes.  If someone were to take a photo of that from outer space, it would probably look as though the planet has been consumed by an incredibly virulent cancer. Human beings were never meant to be so much in contact with each other. No argument about how this kind of connectedness is good for business, but what about the basic psyche?

In a manner of speaking, borders and time variations came into being when the continents parted ways a few billion years ago and splintered further at the edges during the cooling process. Human beings weren’t around when all this happened, and that’s good. They only arrived and spread at their assigned geographies when the fences were firmly up.

Here is a critical point – we did not arrive on one seamless piece of Earth. The land masses were spread around the face of the globe, leading to differences in climate, colour, metabolism, languages and time lines. When one side of the globe slept, the other side was awake. I think we were supposed to evolve somewhere along those lines.

In our early primate state, we were certainly not equipped to monkey around with the natural order of things.  We gibbered good-naturedly at the monkeys in the adjoining caves when we felt good and pulped them with rocks when we didn’t.  There was no question of gibbering long-distance to whatever had crawled off the trees or slithered out of the ocean on the other side of the globe.

When we picked our noses or scratched our asses, we did not have to worry about our indulgence in such small pleasures being captured and disseminated to everybody else over the ether.  Our priorities were basic and manageable. We were individuals with dignity and a clearer concept of boundaries than we have today.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Everyone is connected, all the time – by regular and cellular phones, by television and by Internet. Satellites probe every nook and cranny of the globe for significant and insignificant events and flash news of them out to everyone in an instant. They transmit communications from one end of the planet to the other in a fraction of a second. Gone are the boundaries. Time differences are merely notional. Privacy is a laugh. And we love it that way, never once considering that this could be wrong – that it was never meant to be this way.

There has been a serious communication and information overload happening for quite a while now, but it has all happened in a relatively short period. The first telephone call was placed in 1876.  The first radio transmission took place in 1900, between two towers just a kilometre-and-a-half apart. The first television broadcast, if it could be called that, was in 1925. The first email was sent in 1971 and the first cellular phone call was placed in 1973.

All this has taken place in less than 150 years – a totally laughable period in terms of evolution. In fact, we have still not outgrown our body hair. We still have a tailbone. Men still grunt when they see a pretty woman, and women still shriek when they catch them doing it. The hairs at the backs of our necks still bristle when we sense danger. We still procreate in the same old messy way. And we still kill our contemporaries when we perceive them to be peeing on our side of the fence – which is all that war has ever been and ever will be, regardless of whether we wage it with sticks and stones or nuclear bombs.

And even though we haven’t evolved one bit over the past two hundred years, we have literally killed off all concepts of privacy, peace, dignity and personal space by investing more and more relentless ways of communicating with each other. We have reached a stage where we have the means to make trans-continental calls, send instant messages, email each other and pry into others’ lives over the Internet in a single device that we carry in our pockets. We just can’t conceive life without the ability to do this, either:

A – The Vodafone network is down again

B– WHAT?!? AGAIN?? It can’t be! It was gone for a whole ten minutes last month!

A – Well, I guess we’ll survive…

B – SURVIVE?!? ARE YOU CRAZY?!? I can’t survive with my Blackberry on the blink!!

A – Why? What will happen? So you can’t read your mails, check your stocks, play online Scrabble or pry on your girlfriend for a few hours. What’s the big deal?

B – God, I had no idea that you’re so dense. Don’t you get it? IF I CAN’T DO THOSE THINGS, MY LIFE IS FINISHED!!  I MAY AS WELL DIE RIGHT NOW!!! Let’s go and get drunk till service resumes…”

Flash back a hundred a fifty years. A mail arrives at a serene little farm at the foothills of a great mountain range.

Farmer – Juliet, there is a letter from Emily. She’s finally reached Boston. She says she’ll write again in a couple of weeks to let us know how the new job is.

Wife – I’m so glad. By the way, have you fed the chickens yet?

Dignity. Perspective.  Respect for space. Things we have to live without today. Our air and water are polluted with toxins, and our sanity is polluted with communication. Our own smartness has hijacked us, and who is to say that there won’t be a price to pay for it soon?

We already have documented cases of Internet-induced insanity, but have they identified the first serious mental disease brought on by cellular phone use yet – or will that only happen next month? Relationships are already breaking down en masse because of the communication / information overload. But what will Nature’s final revenge be?

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