Posts Tagged ‘Society’

The Trivialisation of Communication – Part 1

December 8, 2009 1 comment

Few would disagree that one of the most decisive moments in human history was the appearance of languages. In my opinion, it stands right besides the evolution of the bipodal homo erectus, the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel. It changed the very essence of human existence from being about survival, to being about something beyond that: the birth of languages changed how a human society is formed. The transition from the hunter gatherer groups of the Neanderthal man to the farming groups of homo sapiens could not have happened if even one of these key ingredients was missing.

I have spent a long time wondering about the magical evolution of languages and cultures and societies. The alchemy produced by the interactions of these elements of the human world is breathtaking to say the very least. Words are the building blocks of languages. A society is built by the interaction of it’s constituents and this interaction in turn defines the society. Each of these elements thus defines the other. For someone who respects languages, a respect for words develops naturally. One understands that the communication has a purpose and that every word must justify itself. Their significance can be gauged by looking at the fact that ‘vachan’, hindi for ‘word’, is also the word for promise. In the Sanatan epic, Ramayana, wise words spoke of the ‘reeti’ or norm of Raghukul (Lord Ram’s lineage): ‘Raghukul reet Sada chali aayi, praan jaayi par vachan na jaayi’; translated, those from Raghukul can lay their lives to stand by their words. It is one of the few guiding principles of my life.

But this is no Satyug or Tretayug or Dwaparyug (Eras acording to Sanatan theology), this here is the Kalyug. Over the ages, not only did men lose such principles but also the understanding of the implications that words have. Words that may hurt people, words that may distance people, words that may kill people. What is important is the end result, the process of the communication itself is ignored, as is the connections implied or the impacts it has on the other elements of the societal construct.
There would be those amongst my readers who remember sending Telegrams. Kids like me were taught how to write telegrams in school. We’d learnt that each word must be weighed for it’s importance because each word was worth money. That was the only incentive that people understand in Kalyug is money so that worked for a while.

Claude Elwood Shannon and his elaborate and erudite works on the theory of communication have volumes on the lines that every bit takes up bandwidth and therefore must be justified. For the longest time it did hold true. Enter Web 2.0 and the generation spawning out of the cross interference of popcorn microwaves and cellular signals. Every idiot now has unlimited 140 characters to propound his personal philosophy. Speech became a freedom with no sense of any duty let alone balls to own up to it or stand by ones words. Aisi baani boliye, man ka aapa khoye, auran ko seetal kare, aapahun seetal hoye. Sant Kabir would be appalled to find what men are doing with their speech these days.

But it is neither the frivolity nor the acerbic nature of what is being written that worries me. Trivialization of communication worries me because it is the focus has shifted from the predicate to the subject. In a society where speech is trivialized the vociferous and the verbose often pass by as the thinkers. And when a society loses it’s thinkers it marks the beginning of it’s end. When the subject assumes significance over the predicate, the progression of thoughts into actions changes as well. What implications does it have for the human society?

(to be continued)