Tuesday, November 4, 2014

From the Archives

- By Mark McAlister

It is always interesting to delve into the archives and see what one was "up to" in the good old days.  Here are some sample excerpts from my editorials in the newsletters during the '80s:

"The printed word is a means whereby scattered communities can work together.  The newsletter is a form in which a community finds its identity.  The newsletter is no less important for those members who do not read it.  If, after a few cursory glances, they decide it is not worth reading, they in fact start wondering whether it is worth it to be a member of this community at all.  Whatever the outcome, the newsletter has prompted them to contemplate the identity of the community." (Michaelmas 1981)

"I may from time to time publish Angelscript [blank pages] if contributions fail to materialize."

- Original art by Debbie McAlister

"Any newsletter is a workshop for its readers and contributors - a raised conversation.  Personal discoveries are proposed as motifs for community development.  If these motifs are read and heard, the community ceases to be an abstraction...At present, our newsletter is divided into two main sections.  The Membership section captures life impressions of the emerging Anthroposophical Society.  The Vocations and Professions section is a chronicle of encounters (however veiled) with the Spirit of the Time...The form of our newsletter is in keeping with the esoteric/ exoteric form of the Society."  (Easter 1982)

"I prepared this issue of the newsletter on a CP/M- based micro-computer, using the Magic Wand word-processing system.  After typing all the text into a computer file, I was able to make revisions and set the format electronically...Any member who would like to receive his newsletters via on-line transmission should let me know and we'll talk protocol.  (If you are a Mattel user, forget it!) "  (Autumn 1982)

And, here is an article I wrote at Michaelmas 1983:

World Communication Year

"This is World Communication Year, as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly.  The event is intended to focus attention on government communications policies, and to develop world-wide communications networks - particularly in developing countries - that will eliminate isolation from the national and international community." 

This quote, from an article in the March 1983 Research and Development Bulletin, published by Supply and Services Canada, makes a bold claim.  The author feels that technology can be applied to solve human problems.  In this article, I will make a brief survey of communications technology, and discuss some of its contributions and limitations.  I am in no way a technical expert, but my daily work as a technical writer has shown me that statements such as the one above are dreadfully one-sided.  

Broadcasting.  Let's first look at broadcasting devices: radio and television.  These provide a way for one-way communication.  An audio or video signal can be broadcast over a large area.  The receiver (usually) can change the channel or switch off the set, but he cannot respond directly to the sender.  In any event, there is no guarantee that the sender is still "there".  (He may have taped the program weeks ago, and now be on holiday.)  Broadcasting devices have made an important - and in some ways wonderful - contribution to our culture.  "Authors" are no longer confined to the printed text, for instance.  But we now take these devices for granted (or ignore them,), and fail to use them correctly.  

I will give one example to show how difficult this is.  Take any television program, and try to identify the set of intentions behind it.  Doubtless, you will somewhere find an author or writing team, whose sole intention is to entertain, or perhaps to inform.  But several other players are in the act.  Advertisers (like propagandists in the Third World) have learned to manipulate television audiences, with quite different intentions.  Which "messages" will you take into your soul life?

Person-to-Person.  Many wealthy citizens still decline to purchase television sets, but few try to get along without telephones.(unless they have a butler to screen unwanted calls.)  Instantaneous two-way communication across a great distance is of obvious benefit, but it doesn't make human relationships any easier.  Recent proposals to improve the lines between the phones on Andropov's and Reagan's desks are welcome, but are not in themselves a call for rejoicing.

The point to bear in mind is that we live together in the soul sphere.  We are easily convinced that our only connection with a friend on the telephone is the wire.  (Even this is not always so. The connection is frequently broken each time the words stop, so that the channel can be used for a different transmission.)

Information.  We are now in the third stage of communications technology, which I shall define as multilateral communication.  Claims have been voiced widely that a new and wonderful "information age" is dawning.  Computers can be used efficiently to store information, and transmit it between individuals, businesses, or even cultures, thereby helping to break down barriers to communication,

There is heated argument over what they key device for bring about this new age will be.  (Your own argument may depend on where your money is invested.)  Three main contenders are computer manufacturers, the software designers, and the manufacturers of the humble "packet-switch" which enables different families of devices to "talk" to one another.

Can we benefit from this global data-sharing, without losing our heart and soul?  We are accumulating and distributing great amounts of information, but all this hectic publishing does not by itself "eliminate isolation." It is necessary to renew the concepts of "author" and "reader," and to foster the spirit of communication.  This is a challenge to anyone concerned about the word, and above all a challenge for editors!

What is communication?  Your answer will depend on your view of the human being.  

Many leading thinkers now view the human being as a sophisticated information-processing machine - - which can be improved upon.  Software programs can be designed to "incarnate" the best ideas, and lay the foundations for an improved society.  This may or may not be realistic.  The fact is, however, that more and more people are adopting, in partial consciousness, an electronic image of man.  Communication then consists of making contact, exchanging signals and breaking contact.  Conversation is not possible, and you try to keep the channels open through bargaining, compromise and conciliatory gestures.  

If you view man as a spiritual being, communication is something different.  You listen.  This activity is described clearly in Rudolf Steiner's letters, The Life, Nature and Cultivation of Anthroposophy.

1 comment:

Elan: Reviews and Reflections on Culture, Politics and Spirituality said...

An interesting read, Mark. I hope there will be further installments.

-John A. McCurdy, Hamilton, ON