by Jim Reapsome
A lot of Christians — missionaries and missions executives among them — are getting satellite fever, not from UFO’s but from globe-circling communications satellites that promise instant communication to any part of the world. What better way to fill the world with the gospel! But is it a better way?
A lot of Christians—missionaries and missions executives among them—are getting satellite fever, not from UFO’s but from globe-circling communications satellites that promise instant communication to any part of the world. What better way to fill the world with the gospel! But is it a better way?
To answer that question, I publish below parts of a speech given by Andrew Heiskell, chairman of Time, Inc., to the Public Relations World Congress in Boston last summer:
The use of satellites represents a quantum jump for communications comparable to the printing press, the telegraph, radio and television. For the first time in history a worldwide audience at the same instant can see and hear a speaker or a program ….
So we have first of all to accept the rights of those who either pragmatically or instinctively want to protect themselves from the powerful new communications directed at them – you might call it an other-directed imposition of technology – which in many cases is neither needed nor wanted.
We must further examine the technology of communications carefully so we can use it intelligently, not just because it is there. Indiscriminate use of scientific know-how, so often racing ahead of man’s understanding of it, can produce effects clearly opposite to those intended. There are cultures existent on this planet which have moved not from the wheel to the printed word but from the wheel directly to color television.
For example, television instruction is transferred from the one country to another with results ranging from ludicrous to disastrous. To show farmers how to produce bigger and better crops from seeds which are unobtainable produces, real frustration. To show mothers how to wash a baby in a fashion that violates all kinds of taboos in their society leads to anger and anxiety.
More generally, even programs which avoid this kind of cross-cultural roughriding may raise the problem of how you keep people in rural areas after they’ve seen TV. Urban backgrounds in films are exciting and seductive, but the last thing most developing countries need is more farmers and peasants flooding into the cities.
Even a TV program, like Sesame Street, acclaimed for teaching children how to read in this country, was turned down by England’s BBC because the cultural differences were too great. In England! Sesame Street was a success in Mexico but a disaster in Ethiopia.
Sometimes concepts or symbols which would seem universal simply are not. Donald Duck, for example, has entertained audiences of all kinds in countries all around the world. Yet in one African country where Donald was used to teach the military, soldiers threw stones at the film because they thought they were being ridiculed.
In addition to preserving cultural integrity, all countries–but especially developing ones–must ask themselves whether the new technology is worth the cost and is appropriate to the purpose. Teachers and communicators are learning from actual experience that the rush to television may be inappropriate: that color as well as movement may be distractions to understanding. So, too, may be the inability of a viewer to respond because he is an immobilized spectator before a moving image.
Broadcasters and educators in many countries note increasing evidence that television cannot teach effectively unless its programs are available as recordings, to be used by a teacher at a time suitable to the particular classroom situation. That means, of course, significant expenditures for video recorders, tape and cassette libraries, and maintenance technicians.
Since May of 1974 a NASA satellite known as ATS-6 has been in use for communications purposes in Alaska, Appalachia, and the Rocky Mountain area. Currently it is being used in India for agricultural education, family planning and other educational TV programming. Both in this country and in India the technology has performed beautifully.
But the actual communications have often been another story. Programming difficulties of the kind I’ve referred to keep popping up – or down. The one-way flow of information has frequently confused teachers and students…
I believe the danger signals raised by Mr. Heiskell warrant serious consideration. They make "missiological sense": the imposition of technology neither needed nor wanted; the delicate sensitivity of people moving from the wheel to color TV; cross-cultural roughriding in terms of content; the cost and appropriateness of the technology itself; personal follow-through with video recorders and cassettes; and the one-way flow of information that is at the heart of it all.
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