I spent the past few days in New Jersey and New York City. As I walked around, I heard some languages that I speak, some that I recognized, and some that were totally foreign to me. I was born and raised in a small town and still live in a relatively small town, so hearing this array of languages is unusual for me. As I thought more about this, I realized that the world is becoming smaller. Due to advancements in communications, transportation, and technology, I can easily go to New Delhi or Sao Paulo, or I can meet those citizens who have traveled to my own town. It is possible to communicate with people of the world either face to face or through electronic means. I wonder though, with everything we have in place, are we really tapping the potential of a shrinking world or still limiting ourselves to the familiar surroundings and friends to supply us with answers and advice?
We have come a long way in terms of communications in the past 150 years. We sometimes think that we have always been able to communicate with someone instantly, but that is not the case. The first telegraph message was sent by Samuel Morse in 1844 between Baltimore and Washington D.C. Never before could a message go from point to point without having to be carried by runner, horse, or boat. The first voice broadcast over wire took place in 1876 and shortly after, in 1901, Guglielmo Marconi followed with the first transatlantic wireless broadcast. These technologies allowed communication from ship to shore. Wired telephone communications turned wireless and transformed into the phones that we all enjoy today. Our smartphone has an incredible heritage and now doubles as a data communication device.
Transportation has also developed rapidly to allow us the freedom to move easily about the world. Early maritime travel was hampered by the notion that the world was flat, but once that was disproven, explorers could reach out to new lands and new people. Voyaging over land and water advanced dramatically after the invention of the steam engine, enabling people to go great distances on steam ships and trains. This led to similar inventions in personal transportation by giving us the internal combustion engine that allowed for automobile travel. The world got even smaller with the advent of air transit and it has only gotten faster over the past 100 years. With our modern infrastructure, we can make a journey to the next town or around the world with very little effort on our part.
Technology has also made our world smaller. It has completely changed the way we communicate with each other and how we organize work. Work groups, by necessity, were originally created around developing, manufacturing, and distributing physical goods. People in the group could see each other, speak with each other, and create products together. Many knowledge workers today are separated from their teams by miles if not continents. We can now take advantage of the moving sun by shifting work around the globe. In essence, a team could, with the right coordination, work on an idea or a product twenty-four hours a day. Even with the great advancements in transportation, we are no longer bound by those constructs. We can create a team of people from far-flung places of the globe and generate incredible new ideas and products. I think that this is the promise that was launched by Morse, Marconi, Bell, Fulton, and other pioneers.
Are you using advanced technologies to your advantages or are you stuck in an old paradigm? How has communications changed for you over the past ten years? Have you changed the way you organize work and recruit the best people for your project? The power is in your hands if only you will use it to develop and create something great. Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at nigh