It’s 1984 and the Information age is upon us. This new era of information transfer has both good and bad aspects. A possible worst-case scenario as would be a consequence of information overload as detailed in George Orwell’s novel, 1984. In this case study of human alienation, the nation is deliberately manipulated to confuse the population and coalesce power of the ruling authority.
In an effort to look a what might be the prospects of the new information era for the beekeeper and beekeeping, I’d like to list some of what I consider the most important areas of concern:
1. Imported honey and associated problems with the price support system, its future, and the eventual fate of the honey taken over by the Federal government.
2. The rise of urbanization, leading to fewer bee locations, a less agriculturally inclined workforce, and lack of empathy for beekeeping and agriculture by legislators, and the general public.
3. The continuing use of pesticides, often responsible for catastrophic loss of honey bee colonies and their subsequent pollinating efforts.
4. The possible effect of future events such as arrival of Africanized honey bees, leading to public hysteria about bees, and/or introduction of exotic bee pests, contributing to losses of many colonies due to parasitic stress, and consequent possible loss of the Canadian market for U.S. package bees and queens.
In order to address these problems, beekeepers are going to have to adapt to the environment of the 1980’s. It is going to be one of rapid change —Peter Drucker, noted author and consultant, says: “There is but one certainty regarding the times ahead … ‘they will be turbulent times.’ ” As a consequence, Drucker concludes: “ the first task is to make sure of an organization’s capacity to survive a blow, to adapt to sudden change, and to avail itself of new opportunities.”
I come before you today with a sense of urgency: Charles “Chuck” Dadant (president of Dadant & Sons, Inc. 1966-1990) recently wrote me that the hour of decision is closer than most beekeepers believe. He suggested that little time can be wasted in preparing a logical, well-structured case with the powers-that-be in Washington, if the beekeeping industry is to survive. I cannot agree more with Mr. Dadant. And the key to this survival I believe will be how well the beekeeping industry uses information-age technology.
In the last two years, another influential book has taken this nation by storm. It’s called Megatrends, written by John Naisbitt. A major trend discussed is that the United States is rapidly changing from an industrial to an information society. Slowly, the industrial heartland of the Midwest is retooling and retraining, in an effort to adapt to this trend. Areas such as the Silicon Valley of California and the major aerospace centers near Houston, Texas, and Titusville, Florida, are mushrooming in the wake of the explosion of information technology. This trend is primarily due to astronomical increase in the use of the computer.
At the present time. This technology enables us to classify, transfer, and organize large amounts of information in unprecedented ways. George Orwell only imagined this back in 1948. (I could not find the use of term “computer” in his book.) In 1984, however, it is reality. To an eternal optimist, like myself, the computer’s possibilities seem too good to be true. Everyday I see the advantages to education, the arts, agriculture and other areas. However, indiscriminate use of this technology can lead to abuse especially with regard to privacy of the individual. As an example, one will, or already might have received a card from every bank asking to verify a social security number. Perhaps this is for a good reason, but be advised that every time one consciously numbers oneself, it makes more possible invasion of privacy. Another byproduct of communications technology is information overload.
The book Future Shock, published a decade ago, warned that we had to process so much information that our psyches were in danger of collapse. Well, as one computer-buff put it, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” It was the massive volume of low-quality information purposefully made available to the general public by those in power that directly led to the boiled-cabbage-reeking world described in George Orwell’s 1984. In other words, too much information, especially if it is misinformation, is far worse than too little.
We are at this threshold today; a contemporary example of this many believe is the purposeful in-‘ formation blackout concerning the Grenada invasion. Another is people’s personal blocking out of the world around them; the proliferation of devices like the Sony Walkman® is seen as an advanced form of alienation and/or unsociability. I believe that if democracy is to persist, it will be a major task of our population in the future to sort out valuable and relevant information from the deluge that’s already present on radio, television, and billboards and sure to increase as information technology develops further.
It must be emphasized that sheer volume of information is not communication. It must be packaged, then communicated. Most of the present and past problems in human history have resulted from conditions which prompted a classic line in a movie produced some time back, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Let’s go back to those problems that I said the beekeeping industry has; many are the result of communication breakdown pure and simple. The imported honey problem, for example, is a failure to communicate the importance of the survival of the honey-producing industry to pollination in agriculture. The beekeeping industry’s contribution to pollination is not recognized by farmers and/or those in Washington, who see the industry only in terms of its miniscule so-called “measurable” contribution to the gross national product.
It is intriguing to realize that the whole honey-producing industry grosses only as much as one of the large shopping centers in the small town I live in. Another is the failure to communicate the worth of honey to United States’ consumers, who on per-capita basis, consume less than two pounds of the sweet per year. The industry has not told honey’s story adequately, nor promoted the product based on its uniqueness — that it is, like wine, a natural product that cannot be reproduced in the laboratory.
The attitude of the urban population toward honey bees and beekeeping is a failure to communicate the worth of bees as in asset to nature’s productivity and aesthetics. Beekeeping has inherent value as a unique forth of animal husbandry, much like the much-ballyhooed TVA snail darter. The industry has yet to adequately ally itself (communicate if you will) with other powerful forces that could help, such as Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, and The National Audubon Society.
The pesticide problem is all too often the result of a failure to communicate locations of bee hives to applicators and public agencies, who are then forced to kill bees in their efforts to get a job done, or to pesticide regulators and lawmakers that the value of bees as pollinators to agriculture and the environment should be taken into account in cost-benefit analyses of applying pesticides. Often the beekeeping industry’s hard line anti-pesticide stance hinders effective communication in the agricultural community.
The public hysteria caused by the Africanized honey bee (so-called “killer bee) is a result of the failure to communicate the true characteristics of the beekeeping industry, as well as those of that specific honey bee. Bee scientists, like myself, must accept some blame here because we have failed to come to consensus, which has led to confusion and contradiction on this often emotional issue.
The spread of the destructive parasitic Asian mite, Varroa jacobsoni, is the result of a failure to communicate to beekeepers the inherent danger of indiscriminately introducing honey bees into foreign lands. This practice still goes on, in spite of laws to the contrary.
I might point out here that if the beekeeping industry doesn’t tell its story, someone else will. At present, this applies specifically to the pesticide situation; Union Carbide and Pennwalt Corporation, for example, have recently developed a public relations campaign and published their story in recent issues of Ag Consultant, Fieldman, and Agricultural Aviation. At the same time, they purport to be giving true and unbiased information about the effects of pesticides on the beekeeping industry. Are they telling the story in an unbiased fashion? This is also happening in the case of certain products which have the word “honey” prominently on their label, yet often have little if any of the sweet is incorporated into the product. And it’s also true of Federal bureaucrats, who administer both price support programs and plant health inspection. Because they work for the good of all persons, not necessarily the beekeeping industry, they are forced to take action, in effect developing their own story, because those who should be telling it cannot come to agreement nor adequately explain their point of view.
The importance of communication in human society, as in honey bee society, cannot be over-emphasized. It’s estimated we spend 85 percent of our time communicating. The question is, however, are we understood? Effective communication is straight forward, and most importantly, it is something that can be learned.
The keys to adequate communication are;
1. Understanding of the intended message
2. Recognizing the attitudes of both parties, the communicator and listener
3. Recognizing there are differences among people
4. Listening by both parties
5. Providing feedback
The last two are perhaps the least used. Ironically, people spend most of their communicating time listening (40 percent, it is estimated). Because human beings listen much faster than they can talk or write, however, a message can easily be missed or misunderstood. All too often, we’ve already formulated a reply before the speaker is through. Feedback is also extremely important, but little is given and all too often that received is ignored. Historically, beekeepers and the beekeeping industry have not been good communicators; the proof is the industry’s esteem in the mind of public officials and the general public, which are directly related to the problems I have outlined above.
What can we do to better communicate? A strategy is required:
1. We can listen better; as Will Rogers said, “When you’re talkin’, you ain’t learnin’.”
2. We can recognize differences between people. Larry Goltz, retiring editor of one of the nation’s most influential bee journals said it best, “. . I think all beekeepers need to know more about what non-beekeeprs think about bees, beekeeping, and some of the marketed products such as honey. We as beekeepers tend to become insular in our thinking, disregarding the other estimated 99 percent of the population who will perhaps have a larger and larger say in the future of beekeeping as the years pass.”
3. We can communicate a consistent message; we are not doing so presently; the industry speaks with many voices. Witness its image in Washington, as described recently in bee journals, tarnished by the hue and cry of many, each purporting to carry the industry’s true message to the power brokers in the Nation’s capital.
I believe the climate at this time, during this convention, is right to begin reconciliation of differences in order to develop a communication strategy that will help the beekeeping industry weather the turbulent times to come. We have no choice, if we are indeed to tell our own story. Failing this, others like “Big Brother” in George Orwells, 1984 are eagerly waiting in the wings to tell it for us. The results of that, as Mr. Dadant concluded in his letter to me, “. . . can only be complete chaos, a demoralizing blow from which the beekeeping industry in this country may never recover, and without which agriculture as a whole could only suffer.”
Post Script: It is concerning that much of what was in these remarks has not been followed up on, resulting in a continuing political climate of inaction assisting beekeepers. There are, however, some rays of hope given the outpouring of concern about the health of honey bees by the general public in response to a media blitz about what is being called “colony collapse disorder.”
Much more problematic seems to be that although the references must now be considered old, they are not out of date by any stretch of the imagination. They have now reached a much deeper level in the populace, than the remarks here that focused on beekeeping and beekeepers, and are insinuating themselves into the more general, wider political picture. The result is much more “polarization” of the political conversation, producing huge silos of individuals that will not or cannot seem to engage in reasonable conversation about their differences.
This has encouraged a wave of so-called “populism,” punctuated by electing officials who appear to have a much more unilatera, almost dictatorial, bent. Thus, it results in much more “authoritarian” behavior, which many think are encouraged by the current climate that verges on extreme. The content of this presentation, therefore, must be considered just as valid now as it was when first proposed over thirty years ago.