COMMENTS AFTER THE IRIDIUM SESSION @ CANCÚN: TWO (OR MORE?) CULTURES?

Dr. Charles F. Urbanowicz/Professor of Anthropology
Department of Anthropology/California State University, Chico
Chico, California 95929-0400
e-mail: curbanowicz@csuchico.edu
http://www.csuchico.edu/~curban/
(530-898-6220; 530-898-6192; FAX: 530-898-6824)
30 December 1998

This page is printed from: http://www.csuchico.edu/~curban/Iridium1994.html

© This paper was originally presented on April 15, 1994, at the Meetings of the 53rd Annual Meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology (with the overall theme of "Social Science For The Next Generation"), Cancún, Mexico, April 13-17, 1994, and was finished on May 3, 1994.

The paper was prepared after participation in the "Round table Discussion" entitled "Anticipating The Human Impacts And Sociocultural Implications Of The Projected 66-Satellite 'IRIDIUM' System For Telecommunications Between Any Two Persons Anywhere, Without Either Knowing Where On Earth The Other Is" organized by Drs. R. Textor and RS Moorthy; Drs. R. Textor and RS Moorthy had my permission (if they wished) to reproduce and circulate these "Comments" dated 3 May 1994 to all other Round table participants since I had no addresses for the others: this includes Marietta Baba (Wayne State), Gerald W. Fry (Oregon), Charles Hampden-Turner (Cambridge), Stephen Jay Kline (Stanford), Kenneth M. Peterson (Motorola), and Maria-Luisa Urdanetta (San Antonio)].

This paper has been placed on the World Wide Web on December 30, 1998 and the only changes that have been made have been in the use of "footnotes" (now incorporated into the body of the text) and selected references to various WWW sites. The ideas and words and opinions from 1994 remain essentially the same.

INTRODUCTION
TECHNOLOGIES
C.P. SNOW REVISITED
OTHER EDUCATIONAL SYSTEMS
CONCLUSIONS
EPILOGUE
ABOUT THE DISCUSSANT

INTRODUCTION

Writing these "Comments" is interesting since I had already made a few statements at Cancún on April 15, 1994, and I have just finished reading the the Moorthy and Textor manuscript entitled ""What Hath God Wrought?" "Anticipating The Human Impacts And Sociocultural Implications Of The Iridium Revolution" dated April 5, 1994. This written comment, therefore, is a combination of my statements made at Cancún as well as some thoughts developed since the meeting.

 

TECHNOLOGIES

From my perspective, two components are essential for any scholarly paper or presentation: (#1) how the current project or situation(s) developed to date and (#2) the context of the times.

First, looking at the proposed Motorola IRIDIUM project within the context of the times, it should have been made clear to the Cancún participants that IRIDIUM is not the only "satellite system" which (a) is being planned, (b) has been planned, (c) or will be planned in the future! As of this writing, we have the INTELSAT System (created on August 20, 1964, when eleven nations signed a charter to create the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization). This system handles world-wide video, telephony, and data transmission. The world also has INMARSAT (or the International Maritime Satellite Organization), as well as the pending PanAmSat system and the proposed TONGASAT system (from the relatively minuscule Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga, with a total land mass of 269 square miles and approximately 100,000 individuals). [The Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga was the location of my initial anthropological fieldwork almost twenty-five years ago.]

Secondly, while it is interesting (and laudable?) that IRIDIUM was conceived because someone who was associated with someone at Motorola could not make a telephone call while on vacation, it is perhaps equally interesting (and more important?) to know (I believe) that IRIDIUM was originally conceived by Motorola to be a 77-satellite system and was thus named after the 77th chemical element, Iridium. When a Motorola decision was made, however, that a 66-satellite system would suffice, Motorola kept the name IRIDIUM and I recall an industry article that questioned whether-or-not the proposed Motorola system would then be renamed Dysprosium! (If some Motorola engineer decides that 55 satellites would suffice, would it be designated the Cesium-system?) In short, the historical background to the proposed IRIDIUM 66-Satellite system was not presented at Cancún.

To summarize: Motorola's proposed 66-satellite IRIDIUM system (a) is not the only satellite system around the world and (b) the context of the times and the development over time was not presented in Cancún.

 

C.P. SNOW REVISITED

In teaching my courses at California State University, Chico, and going to meetings, I often ask myself the question: how do individual "communicate" with one another? Communication comes from the Latin communico, meaning to share. Citing Cherry:

"We do not 'send' messages; we always share them. Messages are not goods or commodities, which can be exchanged or sent from one person to another. ... We can communicate only with one another in this world only inasmuch we can share sign-usage" (Colin Cherry, 1978, On Human Communication: A Review, A Survey, And A Criticism, page 30).

Perhaps the most recognizable statement made about the dichotomy between disciplines came from the 1959 words of Sir Charles Percy Snow (1905-1980) who wrote in The Two Culture And The Scientific Revolution of the "gulf of mutual incomprehension" between various intellectuals: the discussion in Cancún revealed (to me at least) that certain individuals (a) were not aware of the various telecommunication activities currently occurring around the globe; (b) apparently did not care about these telecommunication activities (i.e., "CULTURAL" activities), and (c) certain individuals were somewhat astounded by the proposed IRIDIUM system. One must ask: where are you in the light of CNN, TBS, and/or the proposed 500-channel television systems? (Not to mention the INTERNET!) [Moorthy and Textor (line #1102} refer to "trysts" via IRIDIUM, but one can easily do that "today" via the INTERNET and the "alt." categories; likewise, Moorthy and Textor (line #1248-49) mention messages "to and from any moving conveyance, whether automobile, ship, or airplane...." but we already have this with the aforementioned INMARSAT or the telephones that are already installed on certain airplanes.]

The on-going chasm that exists between intellectuals comes across in the 1992 publication by Joseph Schwartz (with a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California, Berkeley), entitled The Creative Moment: How Science Made Itself Alien To Modern Culture. As an anthropologist, one can debate certain interpretations of Schwartz, yet an elements of truth come across when he writes that "Our ideas about science are dated because we are so out of touch with it" (1992: xvii). To me, certain individuals at Cancún, were oblivious to the basic rudiments of contemporary and elementary science! I was especially struck by a statement at the Cancún Round table (as I recall) which declared that the proposed 66-satellite IRIDIUM system would be the most complicated thing ever to be attempted by mankind (or some such pretentious nonsense). I returned home to Chico and found some words which express my utmost disbelief on the ultimate "complexity" of IRIDIUM:

"Anyone who has had the pleasure of studying human neuroanatomy often zeros in on the ponderous question: How does the functional architecture of the neocortex--with its 7,000 million or more neurons of various types coordinated together by about 9,000 miles of fibers for each cubic inch--'think'! How does this web of energy contribute to the interrelated processes of our thoughts, feelings, and creative actions? [ALL STRESS ADDED]" ( Todd Siler, 1990, Breaking The Mind Barrier: The Artscience of Neurocosmology (NY: Simon & Schuster), page 57).

With this statement in mind (written by an individual with a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of technology), I am supposed to accept the statement that the proposed IRIDIUM system is the most complex undertaking that mankind has even attempted?! Ridiculous! Do we even know how the human mind works? The proposed 66-satellite system is supposed to be even more complex?! As I asked at Cancún: how would an someone rank the monumental calendric structures located at Chitzén Itzá on the Yucután Peninsula of Mexico? Given the technology and expertise of their day, might not the Maya be accorded the privilege of having constructed the most complex objects ever created by human beings? [Incidentally, I asked this question at Cancún because I have been interested in "Things Mayan" for more than a quarter-of-a-century (Urbanowicz 1967).]

On April 15, 1994, I entered the IRIDIUM Discussion after leaving another SfAA (Society for Applied Anthropology) Session where a presenter made the following statement concerning the paper being presented that day and another paper which would be delivered shortly in the future; the presenter made the following statement (which I dutifully recorded): "So what I say here is the exact opposite of what I say there." With this in mind, one must (hopefully) think: This is science? This is anthropology? This is predictability? Is anthropology a "science" or "literature"? I think anthropologists are not scientists but story-tellers. If representatives of the "business world" (such as CEOs) were to make a similar statement (as cited above) to their stockholders, these speakers would be removed! How can anthropology claim to be a science and say with a straight face: "So what I say here is the exact opposite of what I say there."

Motorola's proposed IRIDIUM system clearly builds upon existing technologies (in the L, Ka, and Ku frequency bands) yet the proposed IRIDIUM system seems to have a MAJOR fault when it comes to the transmission rate mentioned in Cancún: voice at 4.8 kilobits/second and data at 2400 baud (with the estimated charge being $3.00/minute)! I am sorry, but I honestly believe that IRIDIUM will appear to be "slow and cumbersome" when people are already accustomed to speedier transmission rates and then when users get accustomed to even faster systems, will IRIDIUM be viewed as being even more antiquated? Here I refer to something like SONET, or Synchronous Optical Network, where MCI is writing about transmission speeds ranging from 2.5 Gbits/s to rates in excess of 10 Gbit/s by 1995! [Please see the Newsletter of the International Telecommunication Union, No. 2, 1994, page 27.]

 

OTHER EDUCATIONAL SYSTEMS

While Motorola's proposed 66-satellite IRIDIUM System might "be used to promote interactive distance education" for example (line #1973 in M&T), it must be made clear that there are numerous existing on-going distance education systems that have long been in operation around the globe and the proposed IRIDIUM 66-satellite system is not brand new. Consider, for example, the various distance education activities of Dr. Takeshi Utsumi and his "Global Lecture hall" demonstrations. [In 1994 Dr. Utsumi could be reached at 43-23 Colden Street, Flushing, NY 11355-3998; his phone number is (718) 939-0928 although he prefers e-mail: SprintMail: TUTSUMI/GU.USA/ASSOCIATES.TNET.] We also have the distance education activities of the National Technological University or the work of Stanford University in the San Francisco Bay Area or the work of California State University, Chico in northern California via a terrestrial ITFS (Instructional Television Fixed Service) system or Chico courses distribute throughout North America via satellite; or consider the existing Australian radio-of-the-air system or numerous other distance education systems! [For on-going descriptions of various "distance education" projects, please consult the Distance Education and Technology Newsletter [Joan E. Connick, Distance Education Publications, RFD #2, Box 7290, #3, Winthrop ME 04364].

In brief, IRIDIUM is not that unique and in 1986, Harlan Cleveland (then Dean of the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs) wrote the following:

"But communication satellites and fast computers are gradually erasing distance, eroding the idea that some places are world centres because they are near other places or obsolescent natural resources or old-fashioned means of transportation, while other areas are bound to be peripheral because they are remote from these centers....THE PASSING OF REMOTENESS IS ONE OF THE GREAT UNHERALDED MACRO TRENDS OF OUR EXTRAORDINARY TIME. Once you can plug in through television [THROUGH INTELSAT or IRIDIUM or INTERNET or....!] to the U.N. votes or a bombing in Beirut or a Wimbledon final; once you can sit in Auckland, or Singapore, or Bahrain and play the New York stock markets in real time; once you can participate in rule, power, and authority ACCORDING TO THE RELEVANCE OF YOUR OPINION RATHER THAN THE MILEAGE TO THE DECISION-MAKING VENUE--THEN THE POWER CENTRES ARE WHEREVER THE BRIGHTEST PEOPLE ARE USING THE LATEST INFORMATION IN THE MOST CREATIVE WAYS" [ALL STRESS ADDED]" (Harlan Cleveland 1986, The Twilight Of Hierarchy: Speculations On The Informatization Of Society. The Passing Of Remoteness: Information Revolution In the Asia Pacific (edited by Jussawalla et al.): 23).

Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) stated that "knowledge is power," and while Moorthy and Textor also repeat this phrase (line #912), it was Daniel Burris who modernized it: "Information is power only if you can take action with it. Then, and only then, does it represent knowledge and, consequently power." [Daniel Burris, 1993, Technotrends: How To Use Technology To Go Beyond Your Competition, page 43. Incidentally, I also like the (anonymous?) statement: "Power does not corrupt: what corrupts is fear of the loss of power."] Unless the proposed 66-satellite IRIDIUM system empowers individuals and allows them to take some action, then the proposed 66-satellite IRIDIUM system is "nothing more" than the fact that we now have telephones (and INTERNET and word processors and satellite dishes and VCRs and ....) across the planet and individual human beings are still being slaughtered by other individual human beings in Bosnia (or Rwanda or Somalia or Hebron or . . . .).

Succinctly stated, based on the information available to date (in my humble opinion), the proposed Motorola 66-satellite IRIDIUM system will probably be "nothing but" and social scientists at the 153rd meeting of SfAA in the year 2094 will (probably) state: "how was it that in 1994 they did not realize or see that.....?

 

CONCLUSIONS:

Moorthy and Textor cite the words of Samuel F.B. Morse (1791-1872) in beginning their paper yet I prefer to go back to Joseph Henry (1797-1878) an American physicist, who invented the electrical relay and who was one of the founders of the United States National Academy of Science. Henry was a President of the Academy and was also elected the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1846: nothing develops out of nothing!

In teaching my courses (and in going to meetings) I also think about "individuals" and "communication" and "science" and honestly fear that C.P. Snow's "two cultures" have metamorphosized into a dozen or more cultures. We are, as a 20th century species, incredibly scientifically illiterate! (One of the few positive aspects, I thought, of the IRIDIUM session was the comment made about the "batteries" for the hand-held IRIDIUM devices: what a "mess" they are likely to make around this fragile planet and perhaps we should by nickel-cadmium battery stock!)

Moorthy and Textor (line #2683) write that "No one can stop Iridium," but in my opinion the bottom-line in any business venture is the fact that if the various investors (individual, institutional, or corporations) eventually perceive that they will not make a profit on their investment to date in the proposed IRIDIUM 66-satellite system, then they will stop the project cold!

Although Moorthy and Textor (line #2683) write that "few would want to" stop IRIDIUM, it is the simple opinion of this individual in northern California that various competitors of IRIDIUM would certainly want to stop IRIDIUM! Consider, for example, the fact that IRIDIUM is not a new idea and IRIDIUM is not the only technology which might be available in the future: consider the proposed William Gates/Craig McCaw Teledisic Corporation's plans to create an 840-satellite system (much like IRIDIUM) to connect the globe! The mind boggles! IRIDIUM could be over before it begins!

 

EPILOGUE:

Alvin Toffler once wrote of "future shock" yet Charlie Urbanowicz argues that "there is no such thing as future shock but there is ignorance of the present." There are numerous pioneers that researchers tend to forget and this is what contributes to the misnomer known as "future shock." [For example, Auguste Comte (1798-1857) has often been called the "titular father" of Sociology but what about his historical anthropological role often overlooked by many. (Urbanowicz 1992, page 2)]. I would like to begin ending these comment with the words of the Canadian researcher Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980):

"It is well to remind ourselves that the computer made possible the satellite, which ended nature in the sense that it has been understood during the past three thousand years (Marshall McLuhan, 1968, War And Peace In The Global Village, page 89).

"When we put satellites around the planet, Darwinian Nature ended. The earth became an art form subject to the same programming as media networks and their environments. The entire evolutionary process shifted, at the monument of Sputnik [in 1957], from biology to technology. Evolution became not an involuntary response of organisms to new conditions but a part of the consensus of human consciousness. Such a revolution is enormously greater and more confusing to past attitudes than anything that can confront a mere culture of civilization" (Marshall McLuhan, 1969, Counterblast, page 143).

"THE SPEED OF INFORMATION MOVEMENT IN THE GLOBAL VILLAGE MEANS THAT EVERY HUMAN ACTION OR EVENT INVOLVES EVERYBODY IN THE VILLAGE IN THE CONSEQUENCES OF EVERY EVENT [if they wish to or if they can take part]. The new human settlement in terms of the contracted global village has to take into account the new factor of total involvement of each of us in the lives and actions of all. IN THE AGE OF ELECTRICITY AND AUTOMATION, THE GLOBE BECOMES A COMMUNITY OF CONTINUOUS LEARNING, A SINGLE CAMPUS IN WHICH EVERYBODY IRRESPECTIVE OF AGE, IS INVOLVED IN LEARNING A LIVING [ALL STRESS added]" (Marshall McLuhan, 1969, Counterblast, page 41).

Motorola, Teledisic, and various individuals (within the academic world and outside of it) should all heed the translated words of the Greek orator Demosthenes (384B.C. - 322B.C.): "Nothing is so easy as to deceive as one's self; for what we wish, we readily believe."

I was involved in telecommunications at my institution for eleven years and eventually resigned my position and was fortunate to be able to return to teaching. Several factors contributed to my resignation including the fact that I felt that some individuals that I was interacting with were not heeding the Demosthenes Dictum nor were they listening to (nor understanding) my following statement:

"Believe not thine own bullshit lest thou fall victim to it."

Lest one think that I am only critical of IRIDIUM, let me add some comments that I made about PanAmSat; in March of 1993 a full-page advertisement appeared in Satellite Communications and it included the following statement: "Truth and technology will triumph over bullshit and bureaucracy." I took umbrage with this phrase (Urbanowicz 1993a) and responded accordingly, citing (and paraphrased) Demosthenes. I still believe that perhaps we should find the truth which exists in all bullshit as well as the bullshit which exists in all truth and come up with a compromise that works best. IRIDIUM is certainly not "bullshit" but neither is it the total "truth" when it comes to satellite systems and telecommunications.

 

ABOUT THE DISCUSSANT

Born in 1942, Urbanowicz received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Oregon (1972) based on fieldwork in the Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga in 1970 and 1971 (combined with archival research in Hawai'i, Australia, and New Zealand). Prior to this, after his 1960 high school graduation, he attended New York University for the 1960-1961 academic year and flunked out. After enlisting in the United States Air Force in 1961 (Honorably Discharged 1965), he took his first post-NYU course in Anthropology in the Washington State. While in the United States Air Force, Charlie attended technical school for one year, studying electronics and for his remaining three years in the USAF, he was involved in maintenance of radar systems. After USAF service, Urbanowicz attended Western Washington University and received his B.A. in Sociology/Anthropology (1967) and then went on to the University of Oregon where he received the M.A. in Anthropology (1969) and the Ph.D. (1972).

Charlie taught at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) for 1972-1973, then joined the faculty of CSU, Chico, and is now a Professor of Anthropology. He served as Associate Dean in the Center for Regional and Continuing Education from 1977-1988 and was active in the University's distance education activities and while holding this position his responsibilities included fall and spring Extension Courses, Non-Credit Workshops, and the American Language and Culture Institute (a self-supporting English as a Second Language Program). Charlie had responsibilities for budget/personnel that began in 1977 at ~$250,000/year and was approaching ~$1,000,000+/year in 1988; he also served as Regional and Continuing Education liaison to the University's Instructional Media Center and successfully authored (or co-authored or contributed to) numerous grants and contracts (in excess of ~$500,000) involving distance education and/or telecommunication activities from the CSU, Chico campus. Charlie was involved in the transition from Instructional Television Fixed Service activities in Northern California to C-Band and Ku-band satellite activities throughout North America. Charlie also contributed to the successful creation and marketing of upper-division Computer Science courses via videotape modules to industry locations.

No longer involved in CSU, Chico's television plans, Urbanowicz follows aspects of information technologies and distance education on a global scale and has made presentations and published in this area (1988a, 1988b, 1988c, 1989, 1991a, 1991b, 1991c, 1991d, and 1993a). He has been a Member of the Board of Directors of the Honolulu-based Pacific Telecommunications Council, the Washington-D.C. based Public Service Satellite Consortium, and the Washington-D.C. based Society for Satellite Professionals, International; his most recent Anthropology papers (1993b and 1994) were presented at the 92nd Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Washington, D.C., November 17-21, 1993 and the 53rd Annual Meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology, Cancún, Mexico, April 13-17, 1994. Charlie has three areas of current and on-going research: (a) the gaming industry, (b) telecommunications, and (c) the electronic "web" being woven around all-of-us through the INTERNET.


REFERENCES CITED:

Burris, Daniel, 1993, Technotrends: How To Use Technology To Go Beyond Your Competition (Harper Collins).

Cherry, Colin, 1978, On Human Communication: A Review, A Survey, And A Criticism.

Cleveland, Harlan, 1986, The Twilight Of Hierarchy: Speculations On The Informatization Of Society. The Passing Of Remoteness: Information Revolution In the Asia Pacific (edited by Jussawalla et al.).

McLuhan, Marshall, 1968, War And Peace In The Global Village.

McLuhan, Marshall, 1969, Counterblast.

Moorthy, RS and Robert Textor, 1994, "What Hath God Wrought?": Anticipating The Human Impacts And Sociocultural Implications Of The Iridium Revolution. (For the "Round table Discussion" at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology, Cancún, Mexico, April 13-17.)

Schwartz, Joseph, 1992, The Creative Moment: How Science Made Itself Alien To Modern Culture (Harper Collins).

Siler, Todd, 1990, Breaking The Mind Barrier: The Artscience of Neurocosmology (Simon & Schuster).

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1967, The Classical Maya. Honors Papers (Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington), Vol. 6: 26-31.

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1988a, Comments on Non-Entertainment Satellite Video. (The 10th Annual Satellite Communications Users Conference, Las Vegas, September 20-22.)

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1988b, Report on Some Current Projects: California State University, Chico (Presented at the Workshop at EDUCOM'88 on The Establishment of a Global/Pacific [Electronic] University Consortium, Washington, D.C., October 29-30.)

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1988c, (with L. Wright & R. Meuter) Educational Telecommunications from California. A Case Study from California State University, Chico. Telecommunications And Pacific Development: Alternatives for the Next Decade, Edited by Wedemeyer and Ogden (Honolulu), pp. 65-69.

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1989, Satellites: The Global Village and Tele-Education. Space 30: A Thirty Year Overview of Space Applications and Exploration, ed. Pelton et. al (Alexandria,VA), pp. 90-105.

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1991a, Marconi Receives the First Transatlantic Telegraphic Radio Transmission. Great Events From History II: Science and Technology, edited by F. N. Magill (Salem Press), Vol. 1: 128-133,

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1991b, First Artificial Satellite, Sputnik I is Launched. Great Events From History II: Science and Technology, edited by F. N. Magill (Salem Press), Vol. 4: 1545-1550.

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1991c, Information Technology for the Pacific Basin. (Presented at the 17th Pacific Science Congress, Honolulu, Hawai'i, May 27-June 2.)

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1991d, (with Louis Nevins) Extra-Terrestrial Education: Not Science Fiction at All. (For the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, D.C., February 14-19).

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1992, Four-Field Commentary. Anthropology Newsletter (American Anthropological Association, Washington, D.C.], Vol. 33, No. 9: 3..

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1993a, To BS Or Not To BS? Satellite Communications, May, page 10.

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1993b, Charles R. Darwin: Happy 116th Anniversary! (Presented at the 92nd Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Washington, D.C., November 17-21.)

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1994, The Gaming Heritage: A Natural For Some And Problems For Others? (Presented at the 53rd Annual Meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology, Cancún, Mexico, April 13-17.)

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30 December 1998 by CFU