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Living in a Networked Society

            The telegraph was perfected in the 1850s. After many decades later, the telephone was perfected in the 1920s.  But even after the 1950s, a century after the technological breakthrough that was the telegraph, the whole world and particularly the United Kingdom was not exactly moving at a frenetic pace as compared to what is happening today. After the middle part of the 20th century it was still very expensive to communicate over long distances. Calling overseas is not a practical proposition unless the call was extremely urgent or it was done to make a profit. During that time many households in Europe did not own a telephone. But after the invention of the Internet in the latter part of the twentieth century, the world began to enter the Digital Age and communication – particularly the networking aspect went into overdrive. In the 21st century it can be argued that inhabitants of highly industrialised societies, such as the United Kingdom, are living in a networked society.

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            Communication is a very important part of human society. This makes man a superior being as compared to the rest of God’s creation. The basic form of communication is the use of speech. Thus, elevating human beings to untouchable heights in the hierarchy of living organisms is his ability to speak. There are of course animals known to have the capability to communicate – mostly among their own kind – but this is not the same as speech. A human being can therefore express his thoughts and converse with fellow human beings so that they can work together on a common goal. Instead of living by instincts and working alone like eagles flying up high in the sky or a lonesome snake living deep in the jungle, human beings, through the power of speech can come together and form the basic form of social networking.

            But human nature is not content in the idea of simply speaking. His need to constantly communicate, to let others know his wants, his desires and aspirations led him to develop a written form of communication. In antiquity this can be considered as one of the first technological breakthroughs. Writing means that man can continue to communicate while he is resting or even when he is not around. He can establish a more complicated government, bring people together and organizing them for the purpose of producing food, building fortifications or leading them to war.

            As small tribes grew into alliances and then into kingdoms, the ability to communicate whether through speaking or writing, had to be enhanced. This means that since human speech is only effective over a certain distance and that stone tablets or written documents had to be read in close proximity, there is a need to develop a means of transporting man and his message. Horses and other beasts of burden made this possible in ancient times and in the Middle Ages this was accomplished through the use of massive boats, its wind powered sails allowed it to even circumnavigate the globe.

            After the Middle Ages, Great Britain became a naval superpower. By using sea routes and big wooden ships, Britain was able to move man and message overseas. It was another major breakthrough – man was able to cover long distances more efficiently as compared to the earlier use of land routes. But even with this development it still took a long time before the will of the King was made known in the colonies. Thus, far away outposts can build their own “little kingdom” so to speak because communication was not instantaneous and by the time that the messenger had reached the intended recipient the situation had already changed making the directive obsolete and useless.

            Thus, there was a need for a faster means of communication. It is preferable to have something where the communicator does not have to leave his seat in order to send a message to someone who lives hundred of miles away. The first breakthrough in this regard came in the late 19th century when the telegraph was invented. Using wires and a crude electrical device, communication is over long distances was made possible. But the amount of information that can be sent over the wire is limited due to its awkward method of sending signals. It also requires two highly skilled individuals to operate the telegraph, the first one sends the message and the other end deciphers the message from the other end.

The Internet

            A number of individuals collaborated to make the Internet what it is today. Douglas Engelbart was one of the gifted innovators who paved the way for the creation of a networked society. His major contribution is in laying the groundwork for the following innovations list as follows: a) the computer mouse; b) keyboard; c) hypertext; d) dynamic file linking; and e) videoconferencing.  It is impossible to imagine using the Internet without having access to a mouse, the point and click method of accessing information, the use of a keyboard to respond, the use of hypertext to make it easy to handle data, dynamic file linking for a more efficient way of moving through a mountain of data, and videoconferencing for a much better way of doing face-to-face interaction.

With the increase in computer literacy and the proliferation of easy to use software that in turn allows the average person to easily access the computer and the Internet, industrialised societies began to experience interconnectivity. Social networking was brought to the next level. The combination of Microsoft software, Yahoo, and Google turned the world upside down. People are not only interconnected, the hierarchical aspect of communication began to change rapidly into something that resembles an inverted pyramid; the elites no longer monopolize highly innovative communication technologies.

As a result, the planet began to experience globalization in scale never seen before. Outside the government sphere, international relations between two different cultures was made possible by commercial enterprises. A trading company will establish business ties with people from other continents. While it was true that people from different nations can forge friendship through letters and telegrams, the process was slow. The coming of emails, instant messaging, Yahoo and Google allowed individuals from different nations to connect and develop relationships both in the personal and professional levels.

This prompted social scientists to remark that, “Globalization as a concept refers both to the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole … both concrete global interdependence and consciousness of the global whole” (Waters, 2001). This was hardly a new idea, Marshall McLuhan, was one of the first who correctly predicted the coming of the day when communication between individuals living far away from each other can be made into something as simple as living in a village (Symes, 1995). But not everything was great in the highly networked society of the present. With improvements in communication, the after effects was not only limited to record breaking profits and a more diverse and healthy social life, it also contributed to the proliferation of crime particularly cybercrime.

Still, there is no stopping the development of more cutting edge technologies that will continue to encourage people to do social networking or networking for the sake of business. More and more people are learning the intricacies of the Internet and the various ways that it can enhance human life. A new generation is coming up, growing up in a world that is highly dependent on computer technology. When this generation grows up and replaces the older one, the world will saw a group of people that will not resist the impact of computers in their lives. They will continue to improve Information Technology and add innovation upon innovation until the whole world will truly become one global village, a networked society built upon computer software and hardware.

Conclusion

            Without a doubt the whole world is interconnected in a degree never seen before the mid-1950s. This is of course brought about by Information Technology which is built on the Internet. In highly developed countries such as the UK this interconnectivity becomes more apparent. It is therefore accurate to say that this nation is a networked society. The said network is evident in how businesses and individuals are interconnected using Information Technology. One finds it easier to live within the comforts of the cyber network as opposed to living outside the familiar and comforting embrace of the Internet because almost everyone is already so accustomed to sending instant messages and doing e-commerce through their personal computers as compared to the traditional way of doing the said activities.

            It can be argued that networking is the natural thing to do not only because it was forced upon the people by technology but because of the fact that ever since the early history of man he has learned the value of networking or the inevitability of networking. It is as normal as breathing; human nature dictates that man should create communities. It can also be said that networking is prevalent in nature. There is interconnectedness when it comes to the relationship between plants and animals in the ecosystem. Networking is also present in the human body where life is sustained through the complex interaction between body organs and billions of living cells. Networking is the way to life, to survival and to fulfilment especially when it comes to relationships and human-to-human interaction. Thus, man created online communities, social networking, and other structures that would allow for a more stable way of building relationships whether it is for pleasure or for business purposes.

References

Castells, M. (2000). The Rise of the Network Society. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Gelb, M. (2007). Innovate Like Edison. New York: Penguin Group.

Kappelman, T. (2002). “Marshall McLuhan: The Medium is the Message.” Retrieved 19 August

2008 from http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/mcluhan.html

Symes, B. (1995). “Marshall McLuhan’s Global Village.” Retrieved 19 August 2008 from

http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Students/bas9401.html.

Waters, M. (2001). Globalization. UK: Routledge.

 

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