The Communications Revolution has begun—and few Christians are aware of its arrival or importance. What the revolution means, in a sentence, is: Every person can now communicate with any other person on the face of the globe.
All the essentials of the revolution have been invented already. Any obstacles between the common man and the use of the devices now available are social, economic, and political, not technological. Yet most Christians, whose aim is communication, whose predecessors have been concerned for centuries with the commission and problem of reaching the whole world in their generation with their message, seem completely unaware of and unprepared for the dramatic new tools now at hand.
With the Communications Revolution there will come: more pictures and less print (research shows that 7 per cent of all information received is “heard” and that 20 per cent of “heard” information is retained; 87 per cent of all information received is “seen” and 30 per cent of “seen” information is retained); more talking and less walking; more electronic signals and less paper; more private communication if no less mass broadcasting.
In the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century, Christian leaders were quick to see the advantages of harnessing, proliferating industrial wealth, transport developments, medical, social, and educational advances, and a reasonably secure worldwide political system to the Christian Gospel—and the effective “missions” system was born. But where are the Christian leaders who are pondering the significance and possible uses of the Communications Revolution in spreading the Christian. Gospel in the twentieth century?
Church conferences and missionary conventions publish their awareness that in the latter part of the twentieth century, fewer countries want the Christian Gospel communicated by nineteenth-century-type methods, and that even where these are still tolerated, they are becomingly increasingly irrelevant and unproductive. If any feasible alternative were proposed, most churches and missions would be only too glad to drop their problem-cobwebbed present methods, with their restricted recruitment and challenge, for a better way.
Yet this is just what the Communications Revolution presents—an exciting and wholly satisfying way of communicating the Christian Gospel in all its fullness to all peoples and all classes in our own generation.
David Sarnoff, chairman of the board of Radio Corporation of America, a pioneer and guiding genius in radio, television, and aerospace communications for nearly sixty years, has stated that in the next five to ten years high-power satellites hovering above the equator will broadcast television directly to set-owners anywhere in the world, without the rebroadcast at the receiving end required today. At present, “Early Bird” needs special ground stations to broadcast its TV programs; control is thus with the receiving countries. This local option will be eliminated as soon as foreign television can be received direct as today we can receive shortwave radio programs.
Sarnoff has said:
The most momentous communications advance—replete with opportunity and danger—will come, I believe, with the already being produced larger and more powerful satellites, accommodating as many as a dozen television channels, and thousands of telephone-voice, facsimile and computer-data channels simultaneously. These satellites will evolve into huge orbit “switchboards,” automatically relaying electronic signals of every kind from and to any place on earth.
In 1930 communications satellites belonged to the comic strips or science fiction. By 1962 they were real enough, but no one knew how many satellites were needed to provide worldwide communications, nor how high in the sky they should be. By mid-1963 high-altitude satellites, when placed in orbit 22,300 miles above the earth, were found to hover in a fixed spot in relation to the earth, and were therefore called synchronous or gee-stationary. At such heights only three are needed to cover the entire globe.
“Early Bird,” which in 1965 became the first synchronous satellite to go into commercial operation, was provided with 240 telephone circuits (a circuit is a two-way connection) or one television channel between Europe and North America. By the end of this year the new satellites will provide 1,200 circuits, and by the mid-1970s 5,000-circuit satellites will be used.
As more and more powerful satellites are launched, receiving stations will become progressively cheaper (at present a ground station costs approximately $5 million). What is now envisaged is a home television set as a receiver, in a version much cheaper—one costing about $50—than what is now available.
One of the more alarming prospects of this dramatic breakthrough was voiced at a conference of leading scientists in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, last year—that “such satellites could create a system of as yet unimaginable hegemony by the technologically, industrially and economically strongest nation.” In other words, it will be possible for America to put Batman, or for the Soviet Union to put Brezhnev, into everybody’s living-room—or wrist-receiver. Or, in a political context, to see events—such as the recent struggle in Czechoslovakia—as they are actually happening. From its present attitude of disinterest, though, it looks as if there is no danger of the Church putting anything in anywhere.
A nearer stage in satellite improvement, however, is what are called “distribution satellites.” Less sophisticated receiving stations in the $100,000 price range could provide whole national communications networks for under-developed countries. They could skip the landlines phase of communications, just as they have gone straight to the aircraft from the bullock-cart, omitting railways—and the cost is cheaper than providing a hospital or school. Even a relatively developed country like Brazil would find satellites cheaper than conventional links if—or when—a much-needed national radio and television network is established.
This is the challenge to the Christian Church: to reach everyone in a country within ten years with everything from education to salvation for $100,000.
Of course, more is involved than the physical provision of a satellite communications radio and television network. There are also all the attendant skills—space technology, communications techniques, radio and television journalism—plus the tremendous variety of academic disciplines used in programming.
The key professional requirements, therefore, for harnessing the Christian Gospel to the rapidly exploding Communications Revolution would be:
1. Training in High Finance: as a specialized branch of economics expertise, devoted to the accumulating by business expansion, organizing by stewardship and administrating by distribution the vast sums of money required for the new vehicles of communications—satellites, ground stations, computers, publishing, press, radio and television facilities.
2. Training in Mass Media: in acquiring professional creative and technical expertise in all aspects of communications—books, newspapers, radio and television presentation.
3. Training in the Humanities: not in the presently limited sense of “the study and practice of philology and polite literature,” but in the wider and generic sense of “the study of that group of interests relating to the whole field of human nature”—philology, anthropology, theology, sociology, psychology, and so on.
With Christians of vision trained in these skills it will be possible to present the Christian Gospel in any form, simple or intellectual, to any country, tribe or class, within the next decade—and where people are illiterate they could be educated by the new, revolutionary methods of educational television.
There are already plans in existence to link up whole towns to a central communications network, which will be used eventually to bring the individual into touch with every communications development. Communist antennae television, which began in rural areas where there was either no television reception at all or very poor reception, are now springing up even in the biggest cities and raising the possibility that the whole country could be re-wired for television (and eventually data transmission) just as it was wired for the telephone. One new town in Britain, as an experiment, has had a communications main installed as a local utility along with the gas, water and electricity lines.
A fairly conservative estimate of the future in communications is given in an “Economist” booklet entitled “The Communications Revolution,” published in Britain, which says:
Within thirty years television pictures should not only be in colour but in three dimensions as well. The world’s libraries and museums should have been catalogued electronically and their collections accessible to anyone with a television screen (provided they can afford to use the service, of course, although the costs of this will have been reduced considerably by then). It should be possible to telephone from anywhere to anywhere—the middle of Richmond Park to the middle of the Sahara—without wired connections on pocket telephones. Satellites should, for better or worse, be broadcasting directly to receivers as well as to the ground stations that will be located in every large city. Every home will have its information-appliance and while postmen and paper money will still exist, they will not be vital to commerce. Most financial transactions will be performed by communications between computers, and all business letters will be sent electronically, typed during the day on electric typewriters and sent over the wires at night when the rates should be cheaper.… By the year 2000 all other progress will pale beside the advance of the computer, which will probably then deserve the extravagant praise that has begun to be heaped upon it—more important than writing, perhaps the most useful invention of all time.…
This is only a preview of the future of satellite communications. Some are potentials; many are realities that are now, or soon will be, made available to all countries of the world. Over the next decade there will be established a world-wide communications system by which governments, universities, institutions, industries, or the individual businessman, can establish contact with anyone, anywhere at any time, by voice, sight or document. When this occurs, the individual’s ability to communicate will have transcended every barrier of time and space.
David Sarnoff says it should be relatively easy to design and produce low-cost, single-channel television receivers for use in primitive or under-developed parts of the world. These sets could be built by assembly-line techniques, housed in simple plastic or metal containers, and equipped with transistorized circuits consuming very little energy. They could be made to run on batteries, re-chargeable by wind, hydraulic or even animal power. Such sets could be distributed throughout the developing regions in quantities suitable to local conditions. If they were programmed from regional stations transmitting through a few broadcasting satellites, illiteracy could be abolished in ten years.
That this is not the fantastic dream of a single visionary in an ivory tower is proved by the fact that the same Japanese firms who anticipated the world-wide demand for the transistorized portable radio have for, the past few years been pouring millions of dollars into the research and development of transistorized portable television sets—even wrist-watch-size receivers.
In Asia a miniature “village” radio station is already being marketed that has a broadcasting range of 300 to 700 square miles, and is being sold for only $5,000. It can be installed by someone who has never seen a radio station before, a “do-it-yourself” kit includes instructions for both its installation and operation. These miniature radio stations are, as their name implies, ideal for village communities, and in the fast-developing, newly emerging nations of Asia—and elsewhere—their potential is enormous. The 130-watt or 250-watt sizes take up no more space than the corner of a normal-sized room or hut; the unit is only five feet six inches high and less than a foot deep. Thus, within a few years millions of people who have never seen a train, an automobile or a telephone will—via outer space, through their country’s ground station—make their first contacts with all that the world has to offer.
Without doubt, the satellites communications ground station has become the latest in national status symbols. Like oil refineries, steel mills or flag-carrier airlines, they put a shine on the modern look of a developing country and have the kind of effect on the morale that status symbols often generate. But more than that, many of these developing countries see in satellite communications a miraculous answer to their crippling problems of illiteracy and for this reason alone, if for no other, are committing large sums necessary for rapid installation.
Asian governments particularly have plunged into this new field, primarily because of the practical benefits as well as potential profits promised. In the spring of 1967 the Philippines and Thailand launched themselves into the satellites communications field by activating temporary ground stations for sending and receiving messages to and from the United States, Hawaii and Japan. By the end of 1968 both of these countries will have completed permanent ground stations. By that time, too. India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia, Australia, and possibly other countries around the Pacific basin, will have begun construction of ground stations aimed at completion dates in late 1968 or early 1969.
Hong Kong, the dynamic British Colony that is more concerned with profit potential than status symbols, is building one of the most expensive satellite ground stations, one capable of withstanding winds of up to 210 miles per hour. And in blatantly materialistic Hong Kong, the most significant Christian development within the exploding field of the Communications Revolution is taking place—a planned program to utilize in a co-ordinated Christian Communications Center all the skills mentioned earlier.
A group of Christian journalists, businessmen, missionaries and others have gotten together to see how their various skills and interests could be harnessed to the Communications Revolution.
This year a Department of Communications was opened at the Hong Kong Baptist College as the first step in a complex of activities to be co-ordinated in the Christian Communications Center at a later date. Dr. Wilbur Schramm, author of Mass Media and National Development, who helped India start her first Communications Research Center three years ago, is one of the Department Advisers and will spend part of his sabbatical next year in Hong Kong planning the project’s future development.
The associated School of Journalism has teachers from the rapidly expanding Far East Broadcasting Company: Dr. William Derris (UCLA), mass communications researcher; Terence Madison (Syracuse), editor and audio-visual expert; Carl Lawrence (Stanford), former production supervisor with CBS, and others. There are also professional journalists and editors from international and local newspapers and radio and television networks and agencies, who have offered to teach.
Visiting lecturers include Dr. George L. Bird, former chairman of the Graduate Division of Syracuse University’s School of Journalism, and Dr. Frank C. Laubach, internationally known each-one-teach-one specialist in literacy journalism.
A commercially viable publishing company which already prints everything from religious to government publications, is conducting local and regional market surveys with a view to producing Christian-emphasis newspapers and magazines simultaneously with the development of the School of Journalism.
Radio and television networks and agencies have expressed interest in not only providing technical training but also in employing trained personnel and utilizing radio and television material produced.
Therefore, the Asian graduates, by virtue of their exceptional training, will in the next five to ten years occupy the leading positions in newspapers, radio, television, and publishing in their own countries.
This is all very exciting and highly commendable—but there is a great danger in “development in isolation” of unnecessary and expensive duplication of effort. What is really required for this unparalleled opportunity is a Christian Communications Foundation to collect and to correlate all information on communications development and practice, to attract the best-trained people in all fields for employment in the Communications Centers, to raise the large sums of money necessary for the initial capital investment, to supervise the setting up of Christian Communications Centers in key areas from which other centers can spring into surrounding countries, and to provide facilities for research and technical advice.
Only a concept on this scale is adequate to meet the requirements of finance, skills and organization latent in the challenge of the Communications Revolution to the Christian Church. Even this would only be a first step, but at least it would mean getting in at the beginning of the most significant development in all history for publishing the Christian Gospel to all men in their generation.
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