SATIS Telecommunications and its influence on society

This session was led by Alan, who had a long career in this area. I've copied Alan’s notes in full below (many thanks once again to him for such extensive research). The TEDx talk we watched (in French with subtitles) can be found by following this link;

Telecommunications – Transforming Society

Telecommunications, also known as telecom, is the exchange of information over significant distances by electronic means and refers to all types of voice, data and video transmission.

Starting with the first commercial telegraph in 1837 telecommunications rapidly developed to become the foremost growth industry of the past 100 years.

Each new communications technology has had a greater impact on society than the one before.

Information transmitting technologies now encompass the telegraph, telephone, radio and television broadcasting, microwave communication, fibre optic, satellite, mobile phone and the internet.


Physical movement and trade

The wire telegraph initially made little direct impact on most people's lives. It was a 'specialist' technology, owned by companies and operated by professionals. But the indirect impact of the telegraph was huge starting with railways and quickly extending to the transport of goods and materials all over the world using the new international undersea cables.

In July 1897 The Marconi Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company was formed and Ship to Ship to Shore communication became possible increasing safety at sea.


Impact on prices and trade

The telegraph enabled markets to respond more efficiently and rapidly. For the first time, detailed information about shipments could be sent faster than the goods themselves.


The rise of market sensitive information

Advance information eased shipments, helped markets grow and reduced price fluctuations. It also meant there was a value in the information, as well as the goods. Knowing when a ship or train would arrive, and what was on it, was market sensitive information - a message with financial value. This made people understand there was real value in knowledge - and in knowing things first.


The impact on business

Telecommunications changed business and industry in the late 19th century. Large corporations used the telegraph to control regional operations from a central head office. International lines made it possible to run overseas subsidiaries and by 1912 businesses had access to the UK’s first unified telephone system. But the greatest impact was in the creation of international markets in stocks and commodities. These markets moved faster. Sometimes that was a recipe for disaster.


The early impact on society

The news explosion. For hundreds of years, mail coaches and couriers were the typical means of getting dispatches back to newspapers. But from the late 1850’s onwards all that changed.

The electric telegraph brought information transmission time down from weeks or days to hours and minutes. The faster flow of news from around the world created a new market for daily newspapers. Feeding these newspapers with much of their news was a new breed of businesses for the telegraph age - the wire agencies.


Family and personal communications

The early telegraph was only really used for business and official messages. Most ordinary people relied chiefly on posted letters to exchange news and views with their friends and families. But telegrams became the channel of last resort for really important and urgent personal news. The telephone was slow to influence social and family life - but as the network extended with more subscribers its impact was profound.


Law and order

Faster communications aided the fight against crime, making it increasingly difficult for criminals to disappear or to use distance to evade justice. At the same time, however, criminals were able to use the new technology to their advantage allowing them to plan more carefully.


Impact on government

Telecommunications has a wide and profound impact on the way governments operate.

By the 1860s, the telegraph had begun to change the machinery of government, making it easier for administrators to exercise central control, and changing the relationship between nations. Before long, the advent of fast news and mass information had also begun to make governments more accountable to public opinion.


Strategic implications of telecommunications

The telegraph, wireless and telephone facilitated more centralised control over nation states - and later over whole continents or global empires. At one end of the scale, this changed the structure of governments and administrations. At the other, it changed the relationship between governments and the governed - particularly in communities remote from the central seats of power.

 As the machinery of government became increasingly reliant on these technologies so administrations around the world came to understand the strategic power of telecommunications.


Impact on diplomacy

Telecommunications also affected world society - especially the relationships between nations. For the first time, governments could talk to each other in real time through the medium of diplomatic telegrams between embassies. Alliances became easier to manage - with provisions that would take effect far more quickly.

Perhaps the greatest impact is the way it has changed diplomacy, power politics and the balances between peace and war.


In peace and war

Wireless goes to war. The first field wireless telegraphy (W/T) equipment reached the British army in 1916 and by the following year reconnaissance aircraft were fitted with wireless as well.

By the time of the Armistice in 1918, wireless had matured from an exotic novelty into a universal device with which many servicemen and women had come into contact communicating via morse code.


Changing the face of war

A major effect of telecommunications has been acceleration: the faster information can pass back and forth, the more rapidly things can happen; from the escalation of diplomatic crises to their resolution - or the slide into war.


Radio Telephony

By the 1920s, radio had found its voice and it became possible to speak over the airwaves. W/T had turned into R/T - Radio Telephony.


Enter the code breakers

Telegraph lines were essentially safe from eavesdropping from enemy powers - so long as the whole line ran along secure routes. Radio signals, however, went out into the ether and could be intercepted by anyone with an aerial, even hundreds of miles away. This meant any messages could be intercepted - and deciphered if you had the skill. As the telegraph and radio became increasingly integral to operations of war so a new branch of military strategy evolved - the art of telecommunications interception and deception.


Wireless and television broadcasting

Wireless followed by television broadcasting helped to create a sense of a more equal society. It also created a sense of shared experience, uniting whole sections of national populations. The General Strike of 1926 saw newspapers off the streets and wireless the only source of news.

The Second World War was the first global conflict to be broadcast, with populations following the course of the war via their wireless sets. Propaganda became a weapon of war, fighting to maintain the morale of one's own population - whilst undermining that of the enemy.

From the 1950s onwards, television began to unite global populations. For the first time, there was simultaneous proof of landmark events: wars, crises, assassinations, triumphs and tragedies, with the same images shared around the world.

Television also enabled global participation and celebration in world festivals and sporting events. By the end of the 20th century, we felt as if we really were living in a Global Village.


The impact on working life

Behind the power of the dial or button, lay huge communities of people who kept the telecommunication networks running.


Working conditions

Telecommunications is an industry that extends back over 160 years. In that time the conditions under which people work have been transformed, reflecting the changes in society.

From the days of the telegraph, telecommunications has played a leading role in integrating women into the world of work. First as operators, then as supervisors, and now in every area of business, women are playing a leading role using telecommunication technology.


Safety and training

Telecommunications may not seem a particularly dangerous industry - but it has always had an element of risk linked with it, usually relating to working with high voltage electricity or on top of high structures - or both! Each new technology has brought changed methods of working and new risks that the industry has been quick to address with health and safety campaigns aimed at staff, users and customers alike.


Shrinking the world

The advent of live radio and television link-ups between continents has helped people become better acquainted internationally. As the technology has evolved it has brought ordinary people together from different parts of the world to make it a smaller place. We now share in global shocks, global tragedies, global responses and global parties.


Global communications

The arrival of satellite television was perhaps the defining moment in the creation of the global village. Being able to share television images and events with a global audience of two billion or more completely transforms the scale of international events - making each one potentially world-changing.

The rise of 'instant' news, made possible by telecommunications, has raised awareness of the trouble spots of the world stirring people’s consciences and fueling demands for governments to 'do something.' This awareness has had an increasingly powerful effect on international politics and society.


The impact of the mobile telephone

With the introduction of cell phone technology in 1983 for the first time the ordinary person was able to connect to the world’s telephone networks on the move. This new freedom was readily accepted and the networks were quickly extended in populated areas to provide voice and text messaging.

People quickly became addicted to their mobile phones and evidence now suggests that the higher the number of messages and notifications a person receives the less likely they are able to focus on important tasks that require extreme concentration. Being constantly alert to these interruptions encourages people to use their phone in situations that may be inappropriate, such as work, school and family gatherings.

Mobile telephone technology has enabled developing countries to introduce much needed telecommunication services in remote areas where fixed land line telephone networks were not cost effective.


The impact of the Internet

With the rise of the Internet, the global village has gone online, making the villagers not just spectators but active participants.

The telecommunication age enables us to live increasingly in a world where we can know all that we need and maybe more than we want!

The Internet has shortened the link between stimulus and response, enabling ordinary people to share feelings, ideas and reactions to events within minutes. It's also created a network over which far more than words can be exchanged.


Encryption in the Internet age

Today, every Internet user has access to encryption. Many internet transactions are encoded automatically without us being aware. There is an ongoing war being fought in cyberspace - between those who want to see all internet traffic transparent to law enforcement and other agencies of the state - and those who believe that absolute privacy and security are not only fundamental rights but also commercially vital to the future development of the Internet.


Policing this information

In this telecommunication age information has become the most important commodity of all. Access to information has become a goal in itself for a new breed of criminal - hackers and virus pranksters - whose aim is to break into other people's systems. Keeping them out has become one of the fastest growing communications industries of all.


Information assurance

It is now vital for organisations to manage the risks related to the use, processing, storage, and transmission of their information and data including their systems and processes used for those purposes. This includes the protection of the integrity, availability, authenticity, non-repudiation and confidentiality of user data.


The information society

Information technology (IT) is transforming every aspect of cultural, political, and social life based on the production and distribution of information

With the high-bandwidth 4G revolution many new applications are now possible. Low-cost ubiquitous video streaming over the internet may very well lead to a surveillance state where all our actions are monitored and recorded in the name of security. To a large extent, this has already happened in many parts of the world.

Our society has become information rich affecting every aspect of our daily lives and routine. It is influencing our education, family, work and culture changing the way we think about what we do and how we relate to others.

Communication has never been so easy, anyone or anything with an internet connection can now exchange information at very little cost. We’re always connected to our friends and to potentially millions of other people with our smart phones and social media. We can easily exchange messages, get all sorts of notifications and information, we can read books, listen to music, take pictures, watch videos, play games, create documents, store data and much more.

It’s fair to say that Twitter’s influence on society as a whole has been immense. The way that people use it has had considerable influence on the real world, for good and bad.

The internet has undoubtedly changed our lives; there is evidence to suggest that by making information accessible to everyone there have been unexpected effects on people’s behaviour and social lives.

The benefits of the internet are huge but do they outweigh the negative aspects? We are a generation that is constantly checking our phones, emails, Facebook’s, Twitters for updates and notifications. We expect instant gratification from the internet.

There is now evidence to suggest that all this technology is decreasing our attention span and ability to be patient which in turn is impairing our social skills. We expect everything to occur instantly, at the click of a button and whilst we are doing this we are increasingly unaware of our immediate environment. We prefer the virtual world often choosing to send messages rather than interact with those around us.


Alan Wood FIET 23rd January 2017

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