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TRANSCULTURAL FRIENDSHIP: OUR POLITICAL FUTURE

Chapter Three: Change as the Status Quo

Section 1: Technological Innovation

 

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 "Oranges" a latin-derived dance performed by the Lysaya Dance Ensemble for the Russian Festival, Jewish Community Center, Palo Alto, California, June, 1998.

 

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 In order to determine what direction human society will or should take, we must examine the challenges that such a society or societies will face. As indicated above, humankind has reached such a level of mastery over the environment that our greatest challenges are human made. While the future could be projected with much greater detail, at present it will suffice to examine two major aspects of our future, the acceleration of technological innovation, and the increasing interdependency among the peoples of the earth.

 

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Technological innovation is a major force in societal development. Major innovations have an impact analogous to the evolution of the eye, legs, and brain. They extend the powers of the beneficiary to new levels. They often increase specialization within the system. They usually require some reorganization of the system as a whole. One does not have to think very long to see the dramatic impact technology has had on civilization: birth control; the combustion engine; the printing press; synthetic medicines; fiberglass; radio; television; cybernetic devices; computers; microcircuits; and nuclear energy -- have all extended our powers and changed our way of life. In the future, eugenics, recombinant DNA, and more will continue to challenge our social organizations.

 

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Despite the fact that the impact of these technologies on society has been extremely dramatic, many people are unaware of much of this impact. Only a highly "tuned in" observer, such as Marshall McLuhan, will appreciate the extent of the impact. His book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, analyzes with great subtlety the impacts of several innovations --notably television:

 

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The effect of TV, as the most recent and spectacular electric extension of our central nervous system, is hard to grasp for various reasons. Since it has affected the totality of our lives, personal and social and political, it would be quite unrealistic to attempt a "systematic" or visual presentation of such influence (p. 276).

 

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Just as TV, the mosaic mesh, does not foster perspective in art, it does not foster linearity in living. Since TV, the assembly line has disappeared from industry. Staff and line structures have dissolved into management. Gone are the stag line, the party line, the receiving line, and the pencil line from the backs of nylons.

 

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With TV came the end of block voting in politics, a form of specialization and fragmentation that won't work since TV. Instead of the voting bloc, we have the icon, the inclusive image. Instead of a political viewpoint or platform, the inclusive political posture or stance. . .So great is the change in American lives, resulting from the loss of loyalty to the consumer package in entertainment and commerce, that every enterprise, from Madison Avenue and General Motors to Hollywood and General Foods, has been shaken thoroughly and forced to seek new strategies of action (p. 280).

 

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These quotes by no means exhaust the effects of television, but they do illustrate the dramatic, and yet subtle, impact a new technology can have on civilization. Add these to the more obvious moral and practical dilemmas posed by nuclear power, birth control, organ transplants, etc., and one can well understand Alvin Toffler's theme of Future Shock. Apparently, no let-up is in sight; innovation is accelerating, and each new development feeds on the others. Our world will be changing ever more rapidly -- this is one of the key challenges with which developing societies will have to contend.

 

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Developments in electronics, especially microcircuitry, promise to fuel one revolution after another in the coming decades. When computers were first developed, using tube technology, one would fill a large room. The originators estimated that four of these original computers would be able to manage the world's computing needs.

 

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Now the computing power of these dinosaurs may be purchased for a few hundred dollars in the form of a programmable hand-held calculator. The microcircuit "chips' which lay at the heart of these calculators can be produced at less than a dollar apiece. The main material is silicon that comes from sand -- we are not about to run out. Such circuits can, are, and will be used in almost any type of equipment. TV's, cars, microwave ovens, wristwatches, sewing machines, cassette decks, and on and on have incorporated these chips. At the other end of things, supercomputers such as the Cray line can deal with millions of bits of information per second.

 

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Developments in optics have complemented those in electronics. Fiberoptic technology is increasing by several orders of magnitude the amount of information that can be transmitted in cables. Laser technology is advancing information storage, retrieval (video disk, for example) and transmission. Contrary to the expectations of the originators of the computers, all this proliferation has found a ready market. Paralleling Parkinson's law, the world will generate as much information and need for processing that information as technology permits.

 

 

 

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