Critical Mass Communication
Robert Wurtz II
Is has been said that the printing press was a “guillotine to ignorance.” Prior to this 15th-century invention, writings were just that — written by hand. The printing press changed that and ushered in an era of mass dissemination of writings. Books were used to educate and typically had no expiration date unless it was written on the subject of some fast changing field of study. Newspapers, on the other hand, had a shelf-life of 24 hours (roughly) and were geared more towards entertainment. Books were written to promote rational thinking and cohesive thought. Newspapers were written to be consumed as a cheap pastime with only a relative amount of meaningful education upon current events—the rest being an endless amount of information that had no direct bearing on the reader. This reality was exacerbated by the invention of the telegraph.
Newspapers were primarily local at first. If information needed to be sent across the country it could take months. In fact, the Pony Express (ca. 1860) reduced the time a message could travel from St Joseph, MO to California to about 10 days. In 1869, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed reducing a trip from coast to coast from six months in the early 1800s to just seven days. Information was beginning to travel very fast.
As significant as these new technologies were, nothing could prepare us for the electric telegraph, invented by Samuel Morse. At first, it had a range of just 200-300 miles (due to limitations in electrical technology); but the invention of the resender (repeater) changed all that. No longer did messages have to be sent from station to station and retransmitted by a human operator. The electric resender replaced the operators along the telegraph route. The telegraph enabled long-distance communication, but the resender (repeater) enabled mass communication. Soon, information could travel from New York to St Louis in mere minutes. As with all technologies, man cannot resist using them. At first, the technology was used to send important messages, but it was not long until it developed into a medium for the transmission of endless amounts of data that would be printed in Newspapers across the country.
People generally have a fascination for the “latest” news even if it has no real importance to them other than to provide something to discuss around the dinner table or the water fountain. The telegraph became a medium for entertainment — setting society up for a showdown between education and amusement. The newspaper, empowered by the telegraph, changed the rules of the game until man’s desire for knowledge was supplanted with a deeper desire for vain and even forbidden knowledge.
Samuel Morse asked in his first telegraphic communication, “What hath God wrought?” It is hard to imagine that the same God who confounded the languages at Babel (Genesis 11:6-9) would have been behind the invention of the telegraph. Perhaps he should have asked, “What hath man wrought?” Had Samuel Morse had prophetic insight, he may have quoted Genesis 11:6b, “(…) now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” From this time forward man would look to this technology, and its offspring, to amuse themselves endlessly with information about events that they generally cannot participate in. We hear the news (usually bad news that’s “a world away”) — but we are still affected by it emotionally. In a period of 50 years, the world’s “business” became the business of everyone within reach of a paperboy. People were being affected by a daily dose of events that they were helpless to participate in.
Clearly, Genesis 11:6-9 informs us that God never intended for man to communicate on a mass scale. In fact, He confounded their language so they could not communicate. Yet we are light years from the printing press in the 21st Century. The fax machine brought down the Berlin Wall in the 80s (so it is said). The internet took the world by storm in the 90s, and the hand-held device is taking to the brink of Critical Mass Communicaton. We are reaching a dangerous level of saturation of information and communication and few people are talking about it.
I must admit, we live in an amazing world. We can search the internet from a handheld device and be in touch with unfathomable amounts of data. And the archives are growing by the day. The vision of Google has been to place “all human knowledge” within the reach of anyone with a handheld device. These devices not only receive — they send. At the time of this post, it is not uncommon for people to go live with a video feed to Facebook from their smartphone. Fifteen years ago it would have cost a king’s ransom to have a live video feed on the internet. Today it is free! So much communication is going out that it seems that everyone knows about everything that is going on everywhere. The words of Samuel Morse echo in my mind, “What hath God wrought? Really? How will the human race survive in a world where everyone has a means of streaming every bad thing that happens. How will we not be swallowed up with despair and anger?
I pick my phone up and I see a list of four headlines… three of which I’m incensed or distressed by. What is worse is that there is usually nothing I can do about it. In the 70s, 80s, and 90s we had to come home and watch the 6 o’clock news to get distressed. Not now. Distressing information is flooding into our face continually from everyone from CNN and BBC to Fox News and the Washington Post (if we have a smartphone). A perpetual barrage of incendiary headlines that are meant to inflame the reader. And that’s just on a World and National level. What about social media? How often are we distressed in a given day by something a friend or family member has tweeted or posted to Facebook? We used to have no idea the person felt that way, but now we have to deal with it. We know way too much about each other it seems… And it causes an incredible amount of disillusionment, stress, confusion, and tension. Again, what is worse is that there is usually nothing I (or we) can do about it.
How will humanity survive the 21st Century? At this point, we are along for the ride. God is in control, but we have opened the proverbial “pandoras box.” We are in uncharted waters in an age where information is not shedding light — it is bringing great darkness. Obviously, technology is not all evil and I get that. But what are we going to do when the whole world is filled with violence because we know too much and we have seen too much that we would not have had access to 30 years ago? Just asking. I don’t have the answers and I don’t know who does.
It’s like were in our own Acts 27 right now. We’re feeling the beginnings of the waves on the ship with Paul after the shipmaster decided to defy God (Paul who was God’s representative) and sail on to Rome. When you defy God He often quits speaking — even to the man of God. Eventually, God did break radio silence (as it were), but it was not until the men on board had been thoroughly terrorized by the storm that they should have never gone through. What must we endure in the weeks, months, and years to come? We’re MASS COMMUNICATING now and it seems were on the brink of CRITICAL MASS. We have broken through the measure that God put in place in Genesis 11:6-9. God help us.
And the LORD said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.