The Age of Communication

by Gene Bixler
January 1996

After years of trial and error, Thomas A. Watson and Alexander Graham Bell finally achieved success on June 2, 1875. They had been able to transmit sound from one room of their tiny apartment and office to another through a thin wire. Communications would never be the same.

In Spring 1939, dozens of scientists had worked for decades, beginning in 1884, and finally had seen the fruits of their efforts -- the television was part of entertainment in America. Communications would be irrevocably altered. In 1946, inventors John Eckert and John Mauchly had done it. ENIAC, the first all electronic computer system, was functioning. Communications took on a whole new look.

Now, in 1995, the telephone today is so far removed from Alexander Graham Bell's that it is hardly recognizable. Now, telephones can tell you who's calling before you answer. Cellular phones can be taken all over the country with us, so we never miss a beat; and some telephones let us see who we're talking to, rather than just hear them.

Television, so much a part of our lives today, has also seen significant improvements in recent years. Pictures are so real, we think we're actually in the action. Satellite systems allow us to pull in hundreds of channels; and for even more fun, we can try virtual reality!

As for computers, there's no limit to what we can do with them. With the proper hardware, we can talk to people thousands of miles away. Our current computers work faster and perform more functions than the computers on all the Apollo missions. And they do all that in less space than a good stereo system. Communications is at its peak.

It is easier today to spread a message than it has ever been before. It is easier today to tell people what you want them to know than previous generations could ever have hoped for, and yet, it seems, with the advent of the age of communication, we have stopped sending messages. It appears that we have given up hope of changing the world, it appears that we have decided to let our dreams of freedom and peace die on the vine.

For as easy as technology makes it for us to speak, we seem to have become quieter. It is the age of communication, my friends, but we aren't communicating.

Now, there are those that would say we have tried everything we could to keep the lines of communication open, but the fact is that we are speaking with too many voices on too many different subjects with too many different ideas. We've stopped "communicating" in favor of simply "saying." It seems that today's youth have fallen into the deadly trap of allowing others to talk for us. It seems we have opted to join the chorus that is already singing rather than write our own music. It is the age of communication, but the phone lines are down.

You might ask, why this is a problem? Does it really matter if we aren't telling society what we want? What good will it do to stand up and be heard? Can we even hope to find what we're looking for? The answer to that is very simple. If we don't make the effort, failure is guaranteed, but if we do, success is on the horizon.

Many of today's problems can be corrected by simply talking to one another, by simply standing up and being counted. The Civil Rights movements that reached their peak in the 1960's were successful only because, in the end, the minorities of the nation came together with their supporters and friends and fell in line...one line. Rather than taking up arms, they picked up phones, flyers and pamphlets and walked the streets of this country telling the population they were tired of what they had -- they wanted more.

And only a few short years later, they began to see the fruits of their labors. Now, of course, there are still problems today, but as long as the oppressed are willing to stand up for their rights rather than simply accept their fate, progress can be achieved. The feminist movement that is still growing today has accomplished its early objectives because, they, too, took advantage of the tools available to them, the tools available to us all. After all, as they say, the pen is truly mightier than the sword.

Through words, great things can be accomplished, while through violence, all that is accomplished is death, and through acquiescence, all that is accomplished is defeat.

But if that is the case, then why do we, as the gay, lesbian and bisexual youth of the country; indeed, of the world, opt to stand idly by as we are kicked, punched, insulted and beaten, if not directly, then at least indirectly? Perhaps the answer to that is because we feel as long as we are silent, the people being hurt are not really us. We aren't being insulted. We aren't being attacked, so we're not really affected.

But, as British author and philosopher John Donne tells us in his "Meditation 17": "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or thine own were ... therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Donne is saying that we are all affected by what happens to our fellow men, whether we are aware of it or not. Nothing only happens to one person, because in the end, we are all affected. You see, those of us that won't stand up and, at the very least, be proud of who we are, are still going to feel the blast from every insult we hear, and part of us -- physical, mental or emotional -- will be hurt every time a baseball bat is used against one of us.

Perhaps another reason we want to stay quiet is that we feel society is right. We have no place here. Who are we to challenge what the nation obviously wants? After all, this is a democracy, and we are the minority. Don't our rights have to be limited if we are to live in this nation? Of course, everyone gives up rights wherever they are, but according to John Locke, the architect of the "social contract" upon which America is based, the rights which must be limited are those rights which, when exercised, would necessarily limit the rights of others.

What rights of others do we limit by being gay? None. So it still seems the most powerful argument for not wanting to communicate our wishes, our desires, our need for our rights, is that we feel insecure and unsafe.

Abraham Maslow tells us if we can't feel safe, we can never hope to achieve the idea of self-actualization, of "being all we can be", so to speak. Without the simple securities we all should feel, we will not seek our rights, as they are of less importance than a safe existence. So, that means society must be changed to allow us to feel safe in expressing our thoughts, but in order for that to happen, we have to force the change, by expressing our thoughts, which we won't do if we don't feel safe.

It would appear we are caught in a Catch-22. Is there an escape from this cycle? Is there a way for us to get what we want without having to endure the feelings of jeopardy? Aside from putting into practice the old adage of safety in numbers, there doesn't appear to be. It looks as though we will all have to take a risk if we are to be successful. Is the ultimate end of total social freedom worth the risk, though? No one can make that decision for anyone but themselves, but it is a question that each of us should think long and hard about, because the answer could mean the difference between a life of joy and happiness and a life of continued fear and virtual exile.

After all, we live in the age of communication, a time when we can tell the world who we are and what we want, and a time when we can achieve it. This is a time when the science of the past meets with the needs of the present to ensure the happiness of the future, but the future will only be what we, today, make of it.

We have every advantage today the people of the past didn't. We have more hope for the future today than our predecessor's ever thought of. We are awakening to a time when expression of ideas is the simplest of tasks.

It's the age of communication -- and it's time to start talking.

Gene Bixler, 18 years old, is a senior at Lewisville High School, Lewisville, Texas. He can be reached online at scoutman@cris.com.
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