Return to Home Page

Communications & Control by J.R. Swartz
Enhancing Communications

We will now move from the human side of communications to the technical side and its execution. My primary concern here is how to enhance the quality of CMC communications so that it is understandable, and so that it maximizes its potential cross-culturally. This subject applies equally to intra-cultural as well as cross-cultural communications.

Text
In my review of some 120 books, research papers and articles for this paper, only one discussed the importance of textual communications, and the one that did was acquired from a search outside of either "cross-cultural communications" or "communications technology." It was selected because it specifically deals with "the influence of print on sociocultural organization and change (Kaufer & Carley 1993)." It appears that despite the fact that textual information is the most prevalent form of information, it has been overlooked as a serious area of study by individuals studying cross-cultural communications and CMC.

Textual format cannot be surpassed in the storage and transmission of data. Voice and video take up too much space if stored on video or audio tape, or stored digitally. Further, voice and video are much more difficult to perform without errors and are more costly and difficult to record and edit than text. This form of communications frequently requires a wider bandwidth for transmission, and takes more time to transmit than text. Read-write CD’s, M.O. drives and PD-CD’s are making video and audio storage much more viable, and Internet II will make it a reality, but at great expense. For now, however, the transmission of high volumes of this type of data is still more appropriately handled via mail and package express. Text is the easiest format in which to store and retrieve data, and it is still the dominant form of global information transfer. In a nutshell, text will be with us a long time, and it is important for us to understand its role in CMC and cross-cultural communications.

The study of the impact that print has made on human communications is not only important, but fascinating as well. As I feel that CMC is but another form of mass printing, it is important briefly to review the history of print, so as to be able develop an historical perspective, and to be able to discuss the impact of the information explosion as it relates to cross-cultural communications occurring via CMC. Kaufer and Carley (1993) did an excellent job in briefly detailing this history, as I can’t improve upon it, I will quote them below:

Although printing techniques were available in China since the 3rd century B.C. and movable type in the West since 1440, the speed of print changed little between 1440 and the last quarter of the 18th century. As late as the 18th century in Europe, the production of paper and print remained handicrafts (Innis, 1951). Paper remained, in many cases, more fragile, rougher, and harder to ink and illuminate than parchment (Reynolds & Wilson, 1968). Printing was dominated by the wooden hand press. Not until the late 18th and 19th centuries were the basic mechanisms for industrializing printing and paper making developed.

In 1790, Nicholson patented the concept of the steam-powered cylinder press and in 1810 Konig received a patent for the first implementation of a steam-driven hand press. In 1814 the introduction of the cylinder steam press with self-inking rollers increased printing speed from 300 copies per day to 1,100 per hour (McGarry, 1981, p. 47). In 1814, the Times of London put out the first newspaper from Konig’s machine with a production capacity of 1,100 impressions per hour. In 1817, Konig invented a double cylinder press with a production capacity of 1,500 impressions. The next year, the Times commissioned two engineers, Applegath and Cowper, to make further improvements in Konig’s invention, and by 1827, they had a double cylinder press that could produce up to 5,000 impressions per hour. By the 1830s, improvements in the steam press made possible serial fiction (publishing a book in affordable installments). It also made possible increased runs of editions. For example, runs of Dickens’ Pickwick Papers grew, over the century, from 400 to 40,000, and eventually to 100,000. Steam printing increased the production of, and reduced the price of, books in England throughout the 1830s and 1840s. The number of titles rose from 580 in the 1820s to more than 2,600 by mid-century and the average price of new books fell from 16 shillings to just over 8 shillings (Williams, 1961, pp. 158-168).

In the 1840s a new revolution in printing speed dawned with the rotary press, which linked eight or more cylinders rotating in contact with a central cylindrical print surface. An American, Richard Hoe, patented the first rotary press in 1845, and in 1847 it was used to print the Philadelphia Public ledger. Applegath, working on a different rotary design in England, patented his new rotary machine in 1846. The rotary presses of the 1840s could handle 8,000 impressions per hour; by the 1860s, this rate had increased to 25,000 impressions. The process of creating paper by mixing wood and rag pulp was patented in 1844. Major applications for the rotary press of the 19th century were for letterpress (printed matter) rather than for lithography, required for illustrations. In 1860, newspapers began to replace rags with straw, allowing for the lighter, cheaper, and thicker Sunday paper *Innis, 1951, pp. 25-26). In 1905, the first offset lithography presses went into production, which combined lithographic and rotary printing, sometimes called offset rotary. Today, modern newspapers handle upwards of 30,000 impressions per hour using offset rotary presses (Forkert, 1933; McMurtrie, 1937; Moran, 1973; Oswald, 1928; Winship, 1968).

What mass printing did was to take the control of knowledge away from priests, kings and politicians and place it in the hands of the common man. Once knowledge is disseminated in this manner, it becomes increasingly difficult for governments to control their populations. For this reason, you see today the attempt to prevent access to the Internet by Iran, China and other religious and dictatorial powers. It has been said that the fax machine brought about the downfall of the former Soviet Union. Whether or not this is true, there is no doubt that information is the enemy of centralized control.

The advent of the Internet and its increasingly global access has taken this dissemination of information beyond comprehensible proportions. No longer are there restrictions to information access due to limitations in the technical process of printing or the availability of paper. No longer are there delays in information transfer due to the need to send it by horseback, ship or airplane. Today, information is omnipresent and immediate. There are no limitations brought about by geography or time. The amazing production of 30,000 impressions per hour that is noted above by Kaufer & Carley, palls in comparison to the information that is immediately available via Internet.

 

Next Section: Text On-line

Return to Home Page