Monday, August 31, 2009

It's All in Context

Reading about US and global history in the context of communications technology innovation was very insightful and interesting for me. Having previously learned the who, what and where for many of these great historic events, I found that connecting them with developments in the field of communications technology provided explanations into the how and the why these occurrences took place when they did.

For example in the Hanson text, the invention of the movable type printing press is linked with the development of a single language across large areas, which contributed greatly to the idea of a national identity. Prior to these readings, I had of course learned about these topics separately:
1) I knew that the movable type printing press was developed by Johann Gutenberg in Germany. 2) I also knew that what we, the students of German as a foreign language, learn today as being German is a specific type of German called "hoch Deutsch" and that there are many different Germanic dialects spoken throughout German-speaking areas. 3) Through my studies, I knew that these linguistic as well as cultural differences hindered German unification until 1871.

By framing these three separate historical facts in the context of communications technology development, I now can connect the dots on the evolutionary timeline for the formation of a German state.

In addition to the historical context, I found the sections on the development of the telephone systems in the US versus Europe quite interesting since I had experienced these differences first hand. In addition, the differences between these two regions in telephony advancement can be attributed to government policies and other political obstacles, which illustrates the point that just because the communications technology is available does not mean that the people are going to easily gain access to it.

I have a real-world example that relates to the differences in European vs. US telephone systems and illustrates why knowing the differences in communications technology rules and capabilities is important when traveling internationally. This past spring, I was in London meeting two high school friends for a week. They had both spent previous time abroad but not in the UK. They were sharing a room in the hotel in which we were staying and spent a good portion of their evenings calling family and boyfriends back home to update them on our trip. The girls had both brought calling cards along with them and had used those from their room phone. At the end of the week, we were all checking out. The girls stepped up to the desk expecting to hand in their keys and head to the airport when they were informed by the hotel employee that they had 75 pounds in local call charges! Of course, the girls, being American, did not even consider that there would be any charge for making a local call to the UK operator of their calling cards. I think for young adults who have grown up in the US during a time when low-cost communications technology has advanced way beyond the plain, old land-line telephone, paying high prices for something so antiquated comes as a big surprise!

1 comment:

  1. I can relate to the example of using landline phone overseas wotha calling card. Unfortunately I was on the bad end of the stick as were your friends. However, what caught my interest significantly was the use and importance of telegraphic cables. Telegraphic cables played a major role in "assigning" imperial power. When the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company had an operating monopoly, the U.S. was a major player in challenging the monopoly. Obviously, countries don't have a problem with situations unless they are not benefiting from it. Another example was during the treaty talks at Versailles, Britain and the U.S.'s arguments regarding who should control Germany's cables were based upon personal gain for their global communication networks. It seems that everyone wants to reach fair terms for all parties involved but according to the history of international communications that is not the case. Unfortunately, the U.S. (as well as others) has practiced this for years.

    The other part that was of major interest to me was the impact that radio had upon international communication. From U.S. advertisements abroad to military propaganda, radio was viewed as a necessity and a strategic asset to international communiciation.