In a previous blog, I speculated about some of the potential dangers of our emerging technological revolution. So, I thought I’d provide a little balance and discuss how amazing it has been and how it might positively affect our future.

My mother has always been a tech-junkie. She used to school my brother and me on DOS programming and she had us building computers from the ground up for her little consulting business before we were teenagers. Things were pretty different back then. I probably couldn’t build a computer or write code these days.

Still, for me, computers and communication technology was just a part of growing up. I had no idea the implications that would result in the next couple of decades.

But let’s go back a few dozen millennia before we get into all that.

Roughly 35,000 years ago, homo sapiens started talking. Probably not the most sophisticated conversations—something along the lines of: “Hey, there’s a saber-toothed tiger over there. Time to go.” But nevertheless, it was a complete revolution, the likes of which Earth had never seen. Imagine—the first words spoken on planet Earth.

Of course, animals communicate with various signs and signals that convey meaning. But really, humans just started doing it better. They created a complex system of language that enabled them to build things and organize more complex endeavors. And it was only 20 thousand years or so before they started writing things down. Shortly thereafter, we saw helpful little things emerge like laws, record keeping, and literature. This led to educational institutions, primitive bureaucracies, civilization as we know it and much more. Another revolution, to be sure.

Then came the printing press. Ideas started spreading like wildfire. Literacy went on the rise and western society was finally able to cast off the shackles of the Catholic Church, divine right, serfdom and feudalism. Again, society took a giant step forward.

Now, 600 years later, we face a change no less radical than the ones previously mentioned. The running theme is a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. We’re already seeing the shrinking world, the dissolution of cultures separated by borders, heightened economic interdependence between nations and peoples, and the rising exposure to new and foreign ideas, ideologies and ways of life. The communication revolution is affecting nearly every facet of our lives from the way in which we relate to others via social media to how and where we do business. In under 20 years, the Internet has become the backbone of the global economy.

The political implications are fascinating. The Arab Spring revolutions mobilized on social media websites. The Occupy Wall Street movement went from a park in Manhattan to every major city in the U.S. in a matter of weeks. They coordinated protests and rallies. They shared information instantly. What the mainstream media conveniently left out as these movements developed, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook filled in.

A THEE inquiry into political development through time suggests that the next stage in our social growth will be guided by an ethic of mass mobilization. This probably wouldn’t be possible without the technology that’s been developed in the last couple of decades. And it’s so perfect—it fits so well into the model that history has conveniently constructed for us: changes in communication mean changes in everything.

But that’s not all. It’s possible that this ability to communicate more effectively with peoples outside of our own narrow cultures will dramatically broaden something more fundamental within our humanity, will alter the way in which we see ourselves and the whole of humankind. We here at the THEE Online Project are calling it the 21st Century Enlightenment:

  • We might discover that the variety of approaches to life means a sort of committed relativity. We have our ways of living, handling others, working, raising families, etc. Others have their ways. Mine is right for me, theirs is right for them. And we might teach each other a few things along the way. Increased communication leads to greater awareness which leads to tolerance, understanding and mutual respect as sure as night follows day. That’s a good thing. 

  • The ability of each person to express themselves and find an audience online can lead to a drive for each person to be authentic, or “true to themselves,” as it were. It’s already changing economics. Via social media, email and online reviews, companies now respond more quickly to the needs and wants of their consumers. We are seeing a two-way communication between business and customer. Perhaps politics can follow suit someday.  

  • Finally, enhanced communication facilitates the search for answers—be they fact-based, spiritual, emotional or social. And access to raw information is just the beginning. Perhaps we can expect new life experiences to become part of the web, giving each individual greater range and opportunity than their locale and the people who surround them can offer. 

It’s difficult to say exactly how these phenomena will develop. But it is certainly exciting to know that our living at this point in time will most certainly contribute to a pivot-point in human history. Now there’s a reason to feel important.

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