by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright July 2014
One of the things that is going to continue to change dramatically over the next few decades is how people communicate -- this communication revolution we are in now is going to continue. In the 2010's we have smart phones, by the 2030's they are going to look as anachronistic as landline phones sitting on desks do today. And what are valuable communications skills will evolve just as much as the medium does. Multi-tasking, for instance, is going to become more attractive as a human skill.
One totally new breakthrough we are likely to make is how we communicate when we are using implants to enhance our communication abilities. The advanced implants are going to input to us through virtual versions of all our senses, not just sight and sound. And conversely, we are going to develop "virtual muscles" that will allow us to output through the implants without actually moving our voice or finger muscles. This innovation -- virtual muscles for output -- can lead to lots of other communicating surprises.
Humans have been devising new ways of communicating at least since the Agricultural Age began. Writing is one example and carrying messages long distances on horse-back is another.
Each time there is a revolution, the style of what gets communicated changes. Writing originated as an accounting memory aid in ancient Mesopotamia. With time, a long time, it blossomed into thousands of other uses. An example: Using writing in the story-telling format of the novel didn't begin until around 1600 when printing presses were spreading widely and Don Quixote was published in Spain. Then with even more time the dime novel and comic book formats appeared in the 1930's.
A common evolution of each revolution is for a broadcast-style communication revolution, such as books and TV, to start as an educational medium, or closely related, a how-to medium, and then evolve into providing a lot of entertainment as well as education and how-to. If the medium is two-way, such as telephone, it will often be used first for business and military applications, then evolve into being used for lots of familiar style communication such as gossip.
With each of these revolutions new skills are required to both develop and master the communication technique. Writing required learning writing. Printing required running a printing press and manufacturing ink and paper. TV broadcasting required both technical and entertainment production expertise.
The up-and-coming communications techniques are going to require mastering other new skills, and many will be surprising ones.
As factories and mass production became widespread, punctuality evolved from a quirky personality trait into a must-have virtue. Likewise as automobiles became ubiquitous in the US mastering driving skills became a popular rite of passage. With the rise of smartphones, the next emerging thinking virtue seems to be multi-tasking.
In each of these cases this new skill transformed from a curiosity into a vital component for dealing with the new lifestyle. And in each of these cases this was easy for some people and difficult for others -- so difficult that some people never really could master the skill. They became "losers" who were sporting a big handicap in this new working environment the community was facing. Many were confined to doing old-style work that became lower and lower paying as the new skill widened its applicability. Many got discouraged and dropped out in various ways.
This trend for surprising virtues to emerge as a technological revolution progresses will continue. But it is worth pointing out that the value of these new virtues can be transitory. Example: In the gentrified environment of modern US urban centers, driving skill is losing its importance. This means it was of high importance in the US for only sixtysome years.
Multi-tasking looks like it will be one of the emerging virtues, but for how long it is impossible to say.
One enduring trend is that the tools used for communicating get smaller. With that in mind, it is likely that the core of personal communications systems is likely to become implants of various sorts.
The big challenge using implants will face is how to output to them. Doing the input side is easier to envision. It will be a matter of tapping into and adding signals to various places in the human nervous system. A person can see new things by adding an additional signal to the optic nerve. But how does one talk without activating the various speaking muscles? How does one text without activating the various typing muscles?
The likely solution will be learning some highly arbitrary additional muscle control skills that do not actually control muscles. These will be control lines added by the implants that don't lead to any real human muscles, they lead to the implant. These will imitate voluntary muscles in accepting signals, and feel to the brain like voluntary muscles in giving feedback. The implants will imitate muscles because muscles are what human brains are used to using for output at the conscious level.
Visual and audio implants will be the first. But what of the other senses? Will we finally be able to directly communicate smells, tastes and tactile senses as well? What will be the benefit? Up until now there hasn't seemed to be much benefit, so other than communicating real-time information about temperature, written description has sufficed for communicating about the other senses.
In fact, as our implant skills grow, the entire implant communication system is likely to evolve into a mass of signals -- input and output -- that are felt by the human brain to be distinct from the conventional ones. They will be like looking into another world. As our implanting skills grow, these arbitrary links will be added early in life, just before or after birth, and learning to decipher and manipulate them will become part of childhood growing up.
These are new communicating tools. This will open the door to new kinds of things to be communicated about. There will be a lot of surprises. These implants are new tools, and we humans will steadily learn how to use them in new and surprising ways.
As we master implanting skills and apply them to communication issues, another profound communication revolution will be upon us. Not only will how we communicate change, what we talk about will change and what will become thinking virtues in this new environment will change.
The world humans live in is going to change even more dramatically than it has been doing for the past two hundred years.