Communication Explosion – A critical Review
The world may conclude that at least as of now all is considerably well when it comes to secure communication. Be it the issue arising out of Blackberry and RIM, cyber attack on Google (Gmail) in China or the issues of data mining and child safety with Face book. However when we get deep into the problem we start asking ourselves some very disturbing questions.
Is that the fact?
Is that a fair assumption? or
Is it a matter of time before such issues will resurface in a very different monolith form?
Much has been written, talked and conveyed about Telecom and how it has been an enabler. Telecom has enabled communication to break barriers, removed borders and enable transparency. Gone are the days, when an employment newspaper was never available in the North East of India, or news of what happened 3 days old was deemed current. Sending telegrams, post cards etc are rare to be seen at least in the metros and the A cities of India.
However, has open, cheap and free communication brought only positives to the community? But as the saying goes behind the brightness of Sun lies the darkness of the night. With increased communication has come the devil of increased controversies associated with it. The case of child pornography, leakage of sensitive material, usage of controversy to create a mirage of truth is some of the trend seen across the globe. A report by Internet Crime Center in 2009 indicated that more than 300,000 complaints were filed with them. This was a more than 20% increase compared to 2008 and more than 60% increase since 2007. In addition, the total dollar loss from all referred cases was $559.7 million—up from $264.6 million in total reported losses in 2008 [www.trendmicro.com].
Communication as a Saleable Commodity
Communication was always a mean to sell, but the trend of selling communication is something which is becoming very evident. The communication of controversies has often resulted in people becoming more interested and wanting to consume the product even more. Copyright controversy around 3 Idiot arguably would have made people more interested in the movie. The controversy around Big Boss raised the TRP. Communication has been one of the greatest means of influencing people and community at large. However, the reverse trend of people and community influencing communication is seeing unprecedented rise. Influencing voice (radio, voiceover etc), video (TV, Cinema etc) and the internet (portals, adverts) by people to advance self interest is something seen on daily basis. The new phenomenon of social engineering of gaining access to buildings, systems or data by exploiting human psychology, rather than using technical hacking techniques has taken misuse of communication to the next level [www.oregon.gov ].
More information – Necessarily better or open Information – Disinformation?
But has communication made the things more transparent than what it was meant to be? The bigger question is whether communication is serving the purpose it is/was meant to, or is it becoming a double edged sword for us. Are we communicating to sell or are we selling communication? Will a time come, when due to the various uncontrollable elements of communication, we may get back to the old ages of secure and private communication. The recent UAS license Amendment by DoT requires the Telcos in India to invest into security which will arguably lead to a closed walled communication system. A study by ncircle (www.ncirlce.com) on the 2010 Information Security and Compliance indicate that the biggest security concern for companies is to meet the security compliance requirement. Does not this mean that we want to move to a more secure and private communication? The same study also indicates that organizations are moving to new technologies of communication but also want to make sure it is more secure and more confidential. In other words individual communication spheres are growing, but the surface of the sphere is being made as unbreakable as possible.
The disturbing questions raised in the earlier paragraphs, can be answered if we put the nuances of the definition of communication in perspective. Communication in its most practical sense can be defined as:
- Flow of information
The above is a very simplistic definition without indication of the important implied but not visible elements. However the modern day environment has made some more elements more obvious than what they used to be. In addition it has raised questions which have made us think hard on some of the elements, which were may be trivial at some point of time but have assumed added importance. Let us look at some of them, by expanding the definition as mentioned above:
- Flow of information from Sender to Receiver
A communication always happens between the sender and the receiver. The first element can be found once we start asking the question, if a communication is always from one sender to another. The answer is may be ‘No’. It can be from one sender to many receivers, many senders to one receiver and from many sender to many receivers. This raises the first modern day issue namely, who decides if a communication is intended from one-to-one, one-to-many or many-to-one? It will not be an exaggeration to say, many of us who communicate would ever mind finding that out.
The challenge is then, who controls the mode of communication? This is one of the elements that have troubled users, service providers, regulators, the government and the community at large. For instance SMS/MMS capturing some of very private moments of someone’s personal life getting published on the internet, have raised the same question again and again. The impact of communication or shall we say improper communication is such that it had even lead to death. The infamous case of harassment of Megan Meiers by Lori Drew, through a fake MySpace account, leading to the former committing suicide is a case in point. Another case in point in case is the use of MMS to bring various celebrities into controversy. There have been legislations and regulations floated worldwide that have tried relentlessly put control around this issue. But the debate still remains and with the advent of number of channels, such as P2P, Social Networking, Mobile Communication etc has only added to the complexity. The study by ncircle (as quoted in earlier paragraphs) indicates that more than 50% of the organization covered under the study have either banned or are going to ban social media. The provision of DND, spam control and so on has existed for some time, but has that really help?
Moving ahead let us now expand the definition, which will help us getting close to another element of communication. The expanded definition can be
- Flow of information from legitimate Sender to legitimate Receiver
The element of legitimacy is something we always get a taste of on daily basis. Every day when we check our e-mail, we find majority of the emails are not from legitimate sender, but are spam. On a daily basis, we receive calls on our mobile, which again in many cases are not from legitimate senders. Automated downloads of malwares into your personal computer, no longer keeps your computer personal. Has communication affected our privacy? Are we over exposed to the possibilities of communication? How can we ensure that we always get communication always from legitimate sender? The other side of the coin is whether your communication is reaching the intended source. Cases of phishing, cloning of SIMs, interception, tapping of phone lines etc. are always in the new. This has become a very common phenomenon and has pushed us time and again to think of mechanism to ensure that communication always lend only at the intended receiver. But the bigger question is can us as senders ensure it? The provisions of antifraud measures have even limited communication and the benefit thereto for the legitimate sender/receiver [www.oregon.org].
Another important element is the media or the channel. How does this fit into the definition. The definition if further expanded will read as:
- Flow of information from legitimate Sender to legitimate Receiver through a channel
Channel is arguably the element that has undergone the maximum evolution. From the telegraph lines to the satellite to the optical fiber, the channel has seen the most change. It has evolved to such an extent that the debate between print media and the online internet does not seem to end. Every other day there are debates on utility and relevance of printed books versus online articles. There is the debate between speed and accuracy and the capability of a particular media to best express a communication. A picture on an internet will have a different emotional value compared to a picture printed and the sent through a courier. Similarly communicating someone through an e-card and sending the person a printed card will mean different things.
Alongside runs the very difficult question of who controls the media? And is channel neutral or does it add its own noise to distort the original communication. Many companies put adverts on Face book to take advantage of its reach and user base. However, companies removed their adverts from the site in 2008 because they were being displayed on the pages of controversial individuals and groups. This is a case where a media added its own noise to distort the initial intent of the communication. Even renowned channel like the BBC declined a request to screen an aid appeal intended to raise money to aid the relief effort in the Gaza Strip in 2009, which clearly brings out are we really free to communicate. Which puts into case the question, if the media is neutral?
For a common man who on a daily basis communicates, there are other simple questions which challenge him. The question of, what is the best media? Will a matrimonial advert if put on print media vis-à-vis on an internet portal get him more response. If there is a need to raise concern on the work which an influential politician is carrying out, where does he go?
Conclusions and Afterthought
Pankaj Mishra is a veteran Telecom Manager with experience in various Telecom climates and organizations. Presently a senior level Manager in IMB, he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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