How Sputnik Helped Launch Modern Communications Era

Ivan Pollard From London

By Published on .

It is 50 years ago this month that mankind made its first tentative venture into space. On Oct. 4, 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 into orbit, and half a century later we are still feeling the repercussions and, some would say, reaping the rewards.

All around the globe, slightly weird people in unfashionable sweaters and homemade spectacles will be sitting in gloomy drinking establishments, asking, "Was it all worth it?"
Ivan Pollard
Ivan Pollard is a partner at Naked Communications, a communications-strategy shop with offices in six countries.

Well, that is tricky to answer, even for our industry, where the impact of being able to get into space at all has produced quantum changes in the way we generate and distribute communications around the globe.

Sure, we have the likes of NASA to thank for better ski boots, pens that write upside down, mattresses that hold their shape and even ceramic cooking pots, but surely there is more to be accounted for from the billions upon billions of dollars spent in space exploration.

For us, maybe, there is. Satellites in geo-stationary orbits and all the associated technologies have powered everything from global telecommunications to weather forecasting. The development of this superstructure has changed not only what we watch, but when and how.

But here is the irony. Maybe we could have achieved the nirvana of a thousand channels of entertainment with interactivity supplied as standard in every room in the house (as well as everywhere outside) without ever having to make it to the moon.

Ask any teenager in the U.K. what that screen is in her bedroom and you won't get an answer that is consistent with what we think of as TV. It is teens' own windows on their world their way. Kids are watching less telly but spending more time in front of the screen. A problem and an opportunity. A world where content is still crucial but where every single website can take the place of the old-fashioned TV station. It is happening here -- but more important, it is happening everywhere at the same time.

How we respond to it as advertisers, marketers and communication experts is yet to be seen.

As Bill Anders of Apollo 8 said, "We came a long way to explore the moon but the most important thing we discovered was the Earth." That discovery, and what we do next, is still the most intriguing question Sputnik ever raised.
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