Taylor: No simple way to communicate with fancy devices

We don’t go around smashing cell phones, smart meters and mobile apps. We just tend not to use them.

In today’s wireless world, my wife and I come close to being Luddites.

We don’t go around smashing cell phones, smart meters and mobile apps. We just tend not to use them. Joan’s cell phone is often turned off; mine stays on, but I forget to charge it.

When I got my phone, I asked for the simplest model possible. No camera, no music, no texting, no games—just voice.

“We don’t have anything like that,” shrugged the guy at the phone store.

In this deluge of instant wireless communication with everyone everywhere, I find it hard to remember that even land lines are a relatively recent innovation. My parents never had a phone of any kind until 1947. In the 1970s, I visited Prairie homes that still connected to their neighbours using the ubiquitous barbed wire fences.

But we humans devised ways of communicating at a distance, long before telephones.

Aboriginal peoples in North America sent smoke signals. African tribes pounded out messages on hollow logs.

As recently as my own childhood, Scouts learned semaphore and Morse code.

The telegraph transmitted Morse code messages. I’ve heard that some operators had a touch as recognizably individual as the human voice.

Morse code could also be sent by flashing lanterns. Or beating drums. Or flapping flags.

We used flags for semaphore, a system of visual spelling. But you could just wave your arms in recognizable patterns. As a boy, I got so proficient at semaphore that I won prizes at Scout camps. I once used semaphore to decipher the coded message hidden in a drawing in Missy Lee, one of Arthur Ransome’s children’s books.

Ransome also introduced me to marine signal flags.

Even on an ultra-modern cruise ship, you may still see a flag with six vertical blue and yellow stripes when you approach port. It means “Pilot wanted.” A plain yellow rectangle—the “Q” flag—stands for quarantine. Perhaps there were sick people on board, but more commonly it just meant the ship had not yet been cleared by customs and health authorities.

Some signals become so universal that even warring nations honour them. Everyone agrees that SOS (di-di-dit dah-dah-dah di-di-dit) is a distress signal.

Such signals work only when everyone involved shares a common understanding of their meaning. Imagine the chaos if some airline arbitrarily decided that “Mayday! Mayday!” should mean “Oh, look at that pretty cloud.”

And then there are social signals. Where meanings are rarely as clearly defined. I’m quite capable, for example, of reading a bubbly personality as flirtation, or a frown of concentration as disapproval. Fortunately, I’ve learned not to assume that my interpretation is the only possible one.

Many social conflicts, I suspect, result from misreading the signals of a larger society.

Societies change. Norms change. On marriage, on sex, on employee loyalty, on debt, on punishment. The signals that one generation considers obvious may be read quite differently by a younger population.

At both the personal and societal levels, we need to be careful when reading signals. And not leap to premature conclusions.

Just Posted

Don’t swim in Mission Creek, says regional district

The Kelowna creek is flowing faster and is much colder with the upper elevation snowmelt

Central Okanagan EDC boss to sit on provincial board

Corie Griffiths elected to Local Government Management Association of B.C. board

Tourism Kelowna adopts sustainability initiative

Responsible to environment key to long-term tourism growth

Surprise hot air balloon landings in Kelowna

Balloon with 6 passengers aboard lands on Blondeaux Crescent

Nitro Circus show hits Apple Bowl Friday

Kelowna’s Bruce Cook, who was rendered a paraplegic in 2014, will perform in his hometown

Stranded couple rescued from Mission Creek

Rescue personnel brought two people ashore from an island after their rafts were swept away.

Horgan defends fight to both retain and restrict Alberta oil imports

Alberta says pipeline bottlenecks are kneecapping the industry, costing millions of dollars a day

Vernon woman captures prestigious foresty honour

Tanya Wick from Tolko wins Women In Forest Award of Excellence

Police release video on how to ‘run, hide, fight’ if there’s an active shooter

Vancouver police offer video with input from E-Comm, BC EHS, Vancouver Fire and Rescue

RCMP caution boaters after two kids pass out from carbon monoxide poisoning

Both children were given oxygen and taken to hospital

B.C. invests $115M to create 200 new nurse practitioner jobs

Health Minister says 780,000 B.C. residents don’t have a family doctor

Supreme Court rules social housing residents in B.C. deserve rights too

Tenants trying to stabilize their living situations should not face less legal rights than those paying market rates: Judge

Union calls on prime minister to step into ‘stalled’ Phoenix compensation talks

For more than two years, thousands of federal workers have been affected by Phoenix system

Judge: President Trump can’t block critics on Twitter

The judge had suggested that Trump mute rather than block some of his critics

Most Read