A Time for Talk

This is the second time I’ve written a column like this. And I want this to be last.

In 2001, I was writing a monthly column for Electronic Engineering Times, and my comments after what has become known as 9/11 were simple - let's talk. We have a unique capability as human beings to communicate. We owe it to ourselves, and civilization itself, to do just that. Which is why I am so proud to have had the privilege to work in the communications field for more than half of my career.

I have been absolutely swamped for the past two weeks working on a complex but fascinating product-design project, which explains my recent absence. And I've got a couple of upcoming events I wanted to talk about, plus a column on Bluetooth Low Energy, which I also find fascinating for a number of reasons. I will get to those, plus much more, later.

But today I am once again, saddened, numb, confused, angry, grieving, and lost. I am a major believer in freedom; that's at my core as an individual. And yet actions like what we witnessed yesterday in Boston, just 30 miles from where I sit at present, call that core tenet into question. As I've written before, with respect to, of all things, talking on the phone while operating a motor vehicle, our first responsibility in any society is to each other. If we cannot achieve our goals without causing harm to someone else, such goals must be examined from the perspective of ethics, morality, and their very legitimacy.

Terrorism by its very nature is unethical, but it is clearly effective, at least in making a point. And yet any such benefits perceived by the perpetrators will most certainly be short-lived, because those of us who believe in civilization will once again put it at risk to restore the basics of public safety. We will all lose, as a species, much in the process.

And yet we could avoid the harm, the pain, the compromise to ourselves as ethical beings and to civilization itself if we would just talk. No one, I'm sure, is completely happy with everything in his or her life. The news each day is at least punctuated by tragedy - a shooting, a war, a bombing, and I understand the raw emotions that often eclipse logic and personal responsibility and lead to such outcomes. Such has been in our nature, I conclude as one who has spent many, many days studying history, for all of our years on this planet. I suspect and even fear, then, that such will continue. But can't we make a pledge to each other to try just talking first?

And yet, I was not at all surprised to learn, that they (whomever they might be, using whatever powers them might assume) shut off cell service in Boston immediately following the attack yesterday, out of fear that the cellular networks might be used as vehicles to trigger additional explosions. Yes, such is possible; technology always has friend-and-foe component. But imagine the terror of a dead phone when one is trying to reach a loved one, medical personnel, anyone. The fact that the cellular network would have been completely swamped by the traffic of such a large crowd under normal conditions must also give us pause. How can we talk if we can't?

But the technical issues here have solutions. Do the political or other issues at play in the mind(s) of the person or persons who assaulted civilization at its very core yesterday also have solutions? Can we be senior to our history as a species and really, once and for all, just talk. And listen?

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