Essay: Colin Leath
I want to study computers and how people use them to communicate. I am most interested in how computers worldwide can be networked together to transmit data quickly and cheaply. A revolution in communication is occurring as more powerful computers allow us to do more things with audio and video signals. The way we relate to ourselves and to each other will be greatly changed by improvements in communication.
Improving communication technology has tended to expand individual awareness, much like the world of a child grows with age and education. Once the world was a home to many different civilizations, each with their distinct cultures, and each having little or no awareness of the existence of other peoples. Today, we are in the process of accepting that we are all a part of a global community. We share our economy with the rest of the world. We share our problems with the rest of the world. Life is frighteningly complex.
I used to dream about the simplicity and seeming wholesomeness of the olden days. I am now aware of the incredible advances in personal freedom humanity has experienced and is experiencing with improving communication. People are now able to communicate in almost all types of media fairly inexpensively and easily regardless of where they are situated on the planet. A new world culture is evolving. It may eventually contain the best results of the combined efforts and years of experience of all the civilizations that have existed on the planet. It may fall to individuals' feelings of insignificance in a directionless infinity of people. We may fall to a fight for significance.
Television is the most recent advance in communication to have reached a mature stage as an individual technology. One would think that television would increase social awareness. To some extent it has, but for the most part, people tune into TV to tune out of their own lives. It is true that some people turn to online computer games for that same reason. But people won't find scripted Hollywood dream plots online; they will find real people with real problems. Online computer users will not be able to watch passively as largely unrealistic and unimportant problems are resolved in 30-second commercials or 20-minute TV shows. Because of the interactive nature of online communication, people will have to think about and attempt to resolve, at least for themselves, real world problems.
I have great faith that the very interactivity of the evolving computer communications technology as well as its thoroughness (we will be able to do almost everything, even beam 3-d models of sculptures to each other) will prevent the kind of escapism that has evolved with television. While it is currently fairly easy to pretend to be someone you are not in electronic communications, my experience has been that because of the physical and social anonymity afforded by online communications people are much more open and intimate in their interactions. Instead of cliques and gangs based on social standing or race, friendships and meaningful relationships are usually the result.
For these reasons, improvements in communication technology will change the way people relate to themselves and to each other.
I believe this new technology will someday provide equality of opportunity to all peoples. Just as almost everyone in developed countries has easy access to a television, someday everyone will have an interactive audiovisual connection to a world network of people and institutions. One advantage of this advance would be high quality education that is available to everyone. The personal connection to the world network will be a small but powerful computer. The computer will have high quality audio/visual input/output capabilities and the ability to recognize speech. These personal computers will be connected to a worldwide library of data. Individuals will have access to most of the famous works of art, whether literature, music, or graphic art, as well as access to innumerable technical documents with animated 3-d illustrations. The most valuable connection would be the one between the child of a middle class family in San Francisco and the child of subsistence farmer in South Africa, or perhaps Salinas, CA. If necessary, their spoken words would be translated by the computer. The children would see each other face to face.
The coming age of communication will lead society away from the materially minded TV age. It will cause the social revolution that will bring about the sustainable and socially minded attitudes that are necessary for the peoples of the world to have a future.
That is a dream that will not be fulfilled in my lifetime, and probably never will be. It does seem possible, but more importantly, I believe that working toward the fulfillment of that dream will be worthwhile and accomplish good for everyone. I intend to work for that dream while seeking to achieve a simple, natural life centered on the need for personal fulfillment and expression, not material gain. I plan to someday take my personal connection to the world network to a few acres of land near the coast of Northern California. I will grow my own food, compost my wastes and build my own house. In living simply I will have time to pursue my interests and the fulfillment of the dream. What little dollars I need will come from consulting work. If I decide to raise children, they will grow up knowing nature, technology, and the world like few ever have. Physically I will be a part of a small community in Northern California. Intellectually I will be a part of the largest, most diverse community that has ever existed.
These are my motives for planning to attend the University of California: What I will do there will prepare me to be as effective as I can in applying evolving communications technology to the world's problems. The people I meet there will be the people I will be working with to solve those problems, regardless of their interests. There is nothing this technology will not touch.