Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Internet: Truth, Access, Society

Information and Ideas are the genesis of change. But these two things in isolation are not enough to promote change, it requires dissemination to a wide audience. This provides opportunity for people to discuss and think about things, and to accept, or reject ideas based on access to even further information. It is the process for shaping and molding of society.

The greatest example of how this change has happened in the past, is demonstrated through the events that followed the invention of the Gutenberg Press. This advance had the effect of gradually changing society and it's long established power structures, through the education and empowerment of what we now call the middle class in Europe. It was a local event to begin with, but eventually traveled the globe. Today we take for granted our ability to access information, have become somewhat astute at investigating information for truthfulness, and have established time honoured codes of behaviour for our newspapers, authors, and so forth. Information has become a commodity at all levels of government, a most valued asset, but the model for sharing has recently been severely challenged, as in the Gutenberg model of progress.

The internet is the next great advance in literacy, and, not unexpectedly, it is changing the world dramatically. This new found literacy is not strictly about the reading and sharing information. While it has critical elements of that function, it is also creating a new kind of literacy, one that speaks clearly and truly to the desires of all humanity to move forward to the next evolution of society. It is a higher level of understanding and desire, that rejects many elements of the current structure and expectation of society, economy, action, and is asking for the next evolution in behaviours.

Most people will attest to the feeling that the Internet is changing things, some feel it is for the worst, and others thrill at the glory of it, but nobody can yet define where it will lead. The expectation is ripe and robust, and whether we are participants on the Internet, or second hand consumers, we can all feel the change in the air. The elements have not come together yet to give a clear picture of what this means, but there are some areas that are catalyst for movement .

As Gutenberg shaped society, so will the Internet. And as we all know, change can be difficult, and it requires learning and new ways of doing things. The greatest catalyst for change with the internet is the ability to connect ideas, information and feelings with great speed and transparency, and it is the ability to encapsualize feelings, in the context of knowledge, with speed and over large terrain, that is the great revolution here.

This transition will be, is already, difficult for many, particularly those who try to work outside this new social framework. It means that corporations and businesses will have to work in an environment that considers the feelings of its informed and demanding consumers, educational institutions will have to reconfigure the established offerings to include this new approach to learning and doing. We, in our everyday lives, no longer think in a provincial mindset. The Connection is persistent and the metrics to measure success have changed. 

What are some of the examples of change that we are seeing right now? There are several that are prominent and interesting. There is the whole discussion on ownership of the Internet for one, the large and profound case of Wikileaks, the debate on regulating the Internet, and these are only the few high profile issues that I speak of. We also have new models for education, dating, family connections, careers, medical treatment, humanitarian relief, governance and so forth. The most interesting are the new definitions and channels for independence of thought, action and community within a global framework.

There are many who believe that the Internet is the first true global democracy. And there are many who say just the opposite. I happen to believe that it is the beginning of a global democracy, but one that is better than what we now know. I think of it as Globesse (Global+largess), and I think it will define itself over the next ten years or so with resolution and agreement on Internet rights and global access, and I think we shall see a strengthening of Truth and Accuracy as the new metric for social exchange.

In the meantime, I believe it is very important for people to engage and to contribute to the settlement on an understanding of rights of ownership of the Internet, access rights to the Internet, and the place of transparency in the Internet. It is a challenge to define our personal and social responsibilities in this context, but it is a great challenge at the right time.