Turning 21 in the 21st Century

The Evolution of Communication Technology

By Kate Mann

I have had a relationship with IIE Vega in one way or another since it was just 3 years old. That’s just two years short of half of my life. I am a Veganite at heart and am deeply passionate about our brand. I am proud to hold two qualifications from IIE Vega and have been privileged enough to have been taught by all the founding members and our current MD, Shevon Lurie.

I came across the following fascinating and wildly digressive snippet of information, whilst pondering over what to write for this month’s blog entry, by just ‘Googling’ the year Vega was born.

1999 was the Chinese zodiac year of the Earth Rabbit. So what? Well, look how the Earth Rabbit is described. The Earth Rabbit is a shrewd thinker, who is always willing to make the prudent decision. Socially, the Earth Rabbit is willing to help others and is usually well-liked and respected. The Earth Rabbit has a variety of career options for success. The Earth Rabbit may have the entrepreneurial spirit and choose to go into business for themselves. They can use their understanding and thoughtfulness to find success in business, public relations or advertising (FamousBirthdays.com 2019)

In my mind, ‘earth’ has associations with ‘wisdom’ and ‘rabbit’ has an association with ‘magic’. Thus the Earth Rabbit is the perfect depiction of ‘wisdomwithmagic’. How could I possibly resist making mention of such a find, when it is so profoundly apt for the characteristics of our brand, as well as our graduates? However, it has nothing to do with what I wish to write about.

I want to look at technology and how the way we access information and communicate has evolved over the last 21 years. So, without further digression, I will get on with it.

What were you doing in 1999? Perhaps you were playing Snake on your green-screened Nokia phone - moving the snake pixel by pixel, trying not to let it ‘hit’ the edge of itself or your screen. Were you taking the time to ‘Be kind and Rewind’ the VHS tape, having watched the movie you borrowed on contract from the video store? Were you recording music directly off your radio by using cassette tapes? Maybe you were roaming around Musica choosing a CD to play in your Discman, that occasionally skipped a beat or two and was ultra-sensitive to scratches. Perhaps you were glued to your landline, chatting to your friends one after the other, whilst backing your computer files up onto a floppy disk. If I mention the dial-up sound from the modem when wanting to send an email or log onto the internet, I bet you can you hear it. Would you believe me if I told you that broadband was only made available in South Africa in 2004 and was nothing like we have today?

When I think back to this time, I can see the ‘@’ sign as a symbol, associated with the invention of email but making its mark in internet-based br@nd’s logos as a new gimmick. Replacing all ‘s’s’ with ‘z’s’ was what you did as ‘brandz’ for no other reason than wanting to be different by being the same as everyone else who thought they were cool. This would be thought to be a rather cringe-worthy design solution today, that completely lacks the imagination and meaning that target audiences of the twenty-teens demand.

Do you remember your first mobile phone that was either a Sony Ericsson, with interchangeable faces or a Nokia brick of some nature? These phones were basic devices that allowed you to phone people and SMS, where you would have to “abrev. all ur wrds 2 fit them in2 160 characters.” Then, the evolution of the automatic camera to the digital camera with its rechargeable batteries, that lasted only a couple of hours and its laughable resolution by today’s standards. However, despite the resolution, it provided the instant gratification of being able to see the image you took right away and curate images by recreating moments if you did not quite get the right shot. In a few years, we saw the emergence of the digital camera within the mobile phone that allowed you to take low-res photos and videos and share them via MMS.

The competitive mobile phone market of the late 90’s-early 2000’s were racing to produce smaller phones than one another and increase the resolution of their cameras, as this was set to be what the consumers of the future demanded. The size of our phones today defeats the former race but the latter is a sure fact. Today’s mobile innovation is about their functionality as simple devices that allow you to manage several areas of your life, store and access complex information. The camera within a mobile phone now has complex functionality, including more pixels than the human eye can see and editing capabilities that allow for curation of images that alter reality. The wrinkles on your forehead or carbuncle on your cheek can be removed and a lighting condition changed and then you can share the images of your ‘perfect’(but not so perfect) life via social media.

As we leapt into the 2000’s, Blackberry introduced Blackberry Messenger (BBM). This was the first mobile-messaging service using data to send and receive messages rather than the pay-per-message system of SMS and MMS. So came the end of horrific spelling issues that littered school exam papers, from all the abbreviations the market had got used to writing to get all they needed to say into one message. However, it soon started to lose traction with competitors emerging with similar offerings.

Do you remember the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) which was a digital organiser that you could whip out, and from which you could email, message and manage your diary? One would do this with a stylus that came with the device that you had to be sure not to lose. Do you remember those stylus snobs who used them as a status symbol? What a laugh! Who would have believed the marriage between the PDA and mobile phone would create the life-changing all-in-one Smartphone?

As far as Smartphones go, the iPhone generations started to take over the communications industry. Similarly to Blackberry, they created a free messaging and calls service from iPhone to iPhone, using data rather than pay-per-minute calls. Then, other smart-enabled devices emerged, like tablets, watches, TVs and…and…and. The fact that brands could then create their own services through apps that one could choose to download according to your own preferences and interact directly with their customers, shaped and continues to shape how we manage our lives and communicate with others today. Now we can have live face-to-face communication with Facetime and WhatsApp calls. We have access to numerous apps that can just about do anything. These smart devices have become a tool that you can use to make or take a call, manage your calendar, make money and spend money, plan a family, surf the web, send an email, make a group chat or have a group call, contact people in real time anywhere globally, manage your alarm system and CCTV systems, play games with people around the world or right next to you, manipulate and curate how the world sees you and what you see of the world and more - all in one device.

Somewhere in between all of this, social media crept into the digital world with the launch of MySpace in the early 2000s. This allowed individuals to form online profiles of themselves, meet and chat to a global network of people. It was not long after that, when Facebook made its presence known on most people’s computers and smart devices in 2004. This catapulted the idea that anyone over 13 years old could lay claim to a voice that could be global and attract commentary in seconds. People could now provide live commentary on what they were currently doing via a status update or a photo or video upload.

The video-sharing platform YouTube was born in 2005 allowing people to upload, view and share content about anything and everything. Google, which was born the year before IIE Vega, bought YouTube 18 months after it was created. Think about how many hours of viewing time is created a day. YouTube is now the second largest search engine after Google. Both ‘Google’ and ‘YouTube’ are now commonly used as verbs in everyday language. Creating your own channel on YouTube is something anyone can do and, should you get it right, it can become a lucrative source of income.

Social Media has now boomed, with the likes of Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat being the main forms of communication between anyone with a smart device or computer. You just have to visit a restaurant or watch students to see how we as humans bizarrely communicate through social media whilst sitting right next to one another. It is accepted that brands use these platforms to have multiway conversations with customers that are instant in nature. The things people interact with and share over social media have created a sea of data that has sparked some pretty concerning conversations about the controversial use of it to manipulate people’s decision making. This seems to be an ongoing debate that has even taken a legal seat in the recent years.

Whether you are taking a selfie and editing it, documenting experiences or taking a photo of the plate of food you are about to eat, adding a filter or two and posting it for others to see seems to be more important than living in the moment itself. It is almost a constructed reality – an oxymoron of note. Getting enough ‘likes’ of what you have posted becomes more important to stimulate your level of validation and confidence than true relationship building in the real world. This begs the question – Does the human relationship have a middleman or broker, being social media, or is the relationship with social media itself? There is something to ponder.

There are some of the other less obvious and more organic technological changes and influencers during the past 21 years that you may not have really thought about or even remember without a jolt to your memory. IIE Vega, in its one year infancy, was a survivor of the infamous ‘Y2K’ in the year 2000, which was set to bring some nasty surprises to the electronic age, as it was compared to be ‘the electronic equivalent of El Niῆo’ by John Harme, the US Deputy Secretary of Defence at the time. Somehow, Y2K came and went, the word-of-mouth hype being way more impactful than the event itself. The technological apocalypse was outlived, much to the ‘doomsday preppers’’ relief.

In 2001, Wikipedia entered the World Wide Web as the world’s first large-scale online resource for knowledge and it was free. If you were privileged enough to have access to this through your dial-up connection, this would change the way people would gather information. You could ditch your Encarta Encyclopaedia disc set that you got for free with your PC. You could also leave pulling out the Britannica collection, that sat almost regally owning its shelf space in the library as an A-Z of everything you would ever need for your school projects. You could use Wikipedia whilst listening to your favourite tunes and playlists on your first-generation iPod. It is strongly argued that Wikipedia is not seen to be an academically credible resource, because anyone can upload and edit the material available on it, without review. However, because of the innovation in the space of the internet, today there is a plethora of academic journals and peer-reviewed articles available from multiple credible online platforms. And now you can access these through an instant wireless connection to the internet. You can store those you have downloaded in the Cloud and you can allow anyone you choose to share the information with to access it on any internet-enabled device.

Around about 2009 the ‘internet of things’ was born. This is an ever-growing concept that is not only about information shared by people but also information shared by things that connect to the internet via Wi-Fi. This allows for people-to- people-, people-to-things- and things-to-things communication. This gives you access to a world database bigger than any one library could possibly physically store, at the click of a button or through a voice-activated device like the Amazon Alexa.

An example of people-to-people communication is a live chat via WhatsApp with one person or more. A people-to-things communication example would be you communicating with Siri or Amazon Alexa to access information it may retrieve from a person or another thing. Thing-to-thing communication could be for instance between your Apple iWatch to your computer or mobile phone. Or even a store loyalty card to a system that can offer you discounts for the products you buy the most of or set up a shopping list for you based on your preferences shared from your card, the till point and the system.

We are currently in an era of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, mixed reality, and robotics, amongst many other advances.

If we reflect on the past 21 years, and I by no means have mentioned everything that has changed, where will IIE Vega be in the next 21 years? What purpose will we serve? How will we communicate with people? How will we create experiences for audiences as brands? What will our educational mode of delivery be? How will we stay true to our Chinese zodiac symbol – the Earth Rabbit, and continue to facilitate a culture of deep value for empathy and being intrinsically human? How will we keep our wisdomwithmagic alive?

As a true Veganite, I hope to be an active participant in the Vega evolution till at least 2040 in one way or another.

9/16/2019 9:00 AM