The beginning of the 21st century will come to be regarded as the start of the communication revolution. This follows the industrial revolution from 1750-1950 and the technological revolution from 1950-2000
Each of these periods changed human development and each built on the progress of the one before.
It is ironic that the result of technological innovation was a revolution in communication since the industrial revolution inculcated a perception that individuals were merely cogs in the great machine of industry. This was reflected in the myriad sci-fi movies which most often depicted the future as a sort of utopian paradise in which individualism does not exist and we all conform to a uniform standard in everything from clothing to behaviour.
Our view of the future is beginning to change. Through the most sophisticated means of communication in history the individual is being rediscovered.
But is this even important or relevant? In my view any event that marks a sea change in human development is important and this is certainly one of those. Interestingly, a vision of utopia persists, the dangers of which are discussed in this article. We are discovering that freedom is not a blissful existence where we don’t think but rather a society where individuals can participate meaningfully and robustly through social conversation.
There is the brutal reality of life – destructive elements will make as much use of technology and social platforms to reek havoc for personal or other gain. We saw the use of social media in the London riots in October. With any advance there is promise, there is peril.
Given the pace of change in the 18th century calling industrialisation a revolution is a little humourous as it took time to take root. There is no question that the world changed forever. The bulk of the world population began moving to cities, economic and population growth escalated and continued to see sustained growth. The major cities of the world became those major cities.
Despite a radical improvement of income and the advent of city life the casualty of this revolution was the individual. Through mechanisation it seemed that the individual might be lost forever.
Then begins the technological revolution and the pace of change and development really picks up. Each decade from 1950 saw greater and faster change. Built on the back of industry, technology set the world of business alight. That is our nature. What took 5 days before now only took 2 hours. But did we do that 2 hours of work and take the rest of the 5 days off? Of course not. We just did a lot more of it.
As technology advanced, the world became smaller and individuals got smarter. Consumers by the 70s were getting a hint that we didn’t have to take the BS of big business and government. With still more technology we came to realise that perhaps, just maybe our individual voices could mean something.
With the arrival of the 21st century so too arrived social media. The means to form connections with people around the globe, “people just like me”. Crowdsourcing, reality searching and instant communication have brought communication to a level where, in a sea of 7 billion people, an individual can matter, can have a voice.
One of the most telling outcomes of social media is that it always seems to evolve in unexpected ways. There is just no way to tell how individuals will adopt and then adapt a given platform for communication. It is this dynamism that makes it so exciting and gets people talking about a brave new world. While we see how this communication revolution is changing the nature of the consumer relationship with brands, there is no telling how we, as collective individuals, will evolve through and because of it.
Perhaps some balance will be restored to the hype, but then again it may well change and evolve at such a constant pace that we may never feel that we are completely on top of it.
Either way we are all participating in a revolution and we have the opportunity and freedom to take it any direction we want.
Afterall, communication IS life.