The twenty-first century is the Age of Information. Not only will computers be talking to computers, but humans will be communicating with computers and one another through an interconnected network of telephone, electronic mail and cable television systems. Information flowing through that network, moreover, will be readily entered in spoken and written as well as keyed form, and the system will be able to respond to inquiries in any of those formats.
Mass media are deteriorating in delivery efficiency, however, and the disciplines involved necessarily will be forced to seek alternative communication techniques. Some already have expanded into some forms of interpersonal communication, but further expansion will be necessary, with behavioral and environmental communication offering the greatest potential.
Driven by new technologies, new media, and new audiences, the primary focus of commercial communication is shifting from perception to reality. Rather than merely attempting to persuade consumers of the value of a product, service, or organization, communicators more and more are reshaping realities to merit support.
Driven primarily by the transistor as applied in computers and elsewhere, new technologies are joining with educational processes to create better informed and more skeptical audiences. The computer, as a metatechnology and an extension of the human brain, has proved to be an especially potent force in creating the age of information.
The onset of the information age creates challenges to long-prevalent assumptions underlying communication efforts. No longer can communicators assume they are dealing with traditional audiences little influenced by emerging technologies and attuned to the mass media. Contemporary audiences differ demographically, socioeconomicaliy and psychologically from those of earlier decades. They are strongly oriented to innovative information sources created by the new technologies, and they are far less attentive to the mass media of decades past.
Increases in numbers of media, new and old, print and electronic, have created mounting competition for the limited time available to individuals for information acquisition. Each medium that gains an audience of sufficient size to be commercially viable succeeds at the expense of predecessors, further fragmenting the message market-place.
The relative weakness of mediated messages and the deteriorating efficiency of the mass media require that communicators reassess the primary thrust of their disciplines; that they reorient their activities to deal primarily in creating salutary realities rather than in persuasion.