There is a world of difference between what computers can do and what society will choose to do with them.
--Seymour Papert

  The Book > Introduction

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JAKARTA, Indonesia, May 21, 1998— President Suharto resigns in the face of nationwide protests and rioting by hundreds of thousands of people, led by tens of thousands of students. The students organized across 40 universities within a few days, using the Internet. The protests reached every corner of the 17,000 islands of Indonesia through the electronic communications network that had been established, ironically, as a cash cow for Suharto’s children.

LIMA, Peru, November 20, 2000— President Alberto Fujimori faxes his resignation from Japan, humiliated by videotapes exposing corruption and graft involving top officials. More than 2,000 videotapes recorded by his top intelligence officer were confiscated, then shown on national television, continuing to fascinate and horrify the Peruvian public for months.

MANILA, Philippines, January 20, 2001—Four days of mass protests force President Joseph Estrada to resign. The protests are dubbed People Power 2, in reference to the People Power protests of 1986 that toppled Ferdinand Marcos. This time, the demonstrations are coordinated through 160 million text messages sent over cellular phones.

Each of these revolutions is part of the Information Revolution, the great social, technological, and political movement of the information age. Its visionaries strive to establish the means by which everybody can pursue the democratic ideals of creative and political freedom. The revolution is becoming more powerful as countries around the globe develop the infrastructures for information technology.

The Information Revolution is founded on the technologies of the post-World War II era: electronic communications networks, digital media, and computers. They are a ubiquitous component of our environment, a literal and figurative web of electricity running through our homes, below our streets, across the skies, before our eyes. Information technologies are inextricably part of our habitat. We can scale their peaks, mine their resources, build castles or shrines on their slopes, or leave them wild and forbidding. The Information Revolution presents a series of choices for us to make.

The technomanifestos excerpted and discussed in this book are the writings of the scientists, mathematicians, engineers, activists, and others who have shaped technologies for individual and collective empowerment. These are the innovators who emphasize technology's social impact over its commercial import. Their interests often run parallel—or perpendicular to—the interests of corporations, including the computer companies and dot com enterprises they made possible. When their visions are realized commercially, it is because they are good ideas.

The concepts expressed in the manifestos of the information revolutionaries are related to and, in many ways, as important as those expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Federalist Papers. Just as the founding papers of the American Revolution delineated a new political system based on the basic principle of freedom, so do the technomanifestos introduce a new set of ideals that counter the oppressive aspects of established institutions. Like the framers of the Constitution, the information revolutionaries have a potent agenda: to release the power of the people. They build technologies to free people of the systems that turn them into tools.

Since the Industrial Revolution, many people in the West have led two lives—a personal life and a work life. The personal realm is generally founded on the strengths that underlie intimate relationships and personal well-being: trust, love, individuality, respect, joy, creativity, and cooperation. The work and business realm is typically founded on other principles: efficiency, structure, competition, the scientific method, and the belief that everything can be reduced to its measurable components. The world of work, on which the global economic and political structure depends, has thus been divorced of human frailties. It has also been divorced of human strengths.

Many of the visionaries featured in this book realize that the advances of the Industrial Revolution have come at the expense of the personal sphere. The economies of the United States and Europe have been built on the efficiency of the assembly line, which requires many people to spend their lives doing the same task every day with little pleasure or creativity. The rise of the bureaucracy occurred as the concept of the assembly line moved into the world of ideas. The corporation, the governmental institution, and even the classroom are factories of thought that have run on the machinery of administrative drudgery: papers, forms, rules, procedures, and tests.

The manifesto writers understand that information technology has the potential to reintegrate our private and public spheres by transforming the nature of the work. They understand that giving people better tools to create, communicate, and collaborate can make work more like private life: intimately rewarding, participatory, creative, and less laborious.

Computers, electronic media, and networks are not just tools of business, but also, thanks to the information revolutionaries, part of our intimate selves and a means of perception and self-expression. Information technology can reveal how each of us is deeply affected by the workings of corporations, economic, political, and media systems. Global networks like the World Wide Web enable people to consider worldviews not presented by the broadcast media. Computer simulations expose the causes and effects of issues such as rain forest devastation, welfare budgets, and gene cloning in political, economic, social, and personal terms. We can become generalists as well as specialists, denizens of a global village.

The danger of losing the separation between our personal and work lives, or the local and the global, is that the harmful characteristics of one could affect the other. With electronic technologies, the global sociopolitical infrastructure may dissolve, now that the fear and hatred of a few can spread everywhere. Or every moment of our waking lives may become processed and controlled for the sake of speed, efficiency, or "convenience."

But the hope is that the best of both worlds can be joined, that information technologies can help humankind build societies that are efficient and competitive, yet built on human strengths and liberties. As our technologies become more like us—complex and adaptive—our social systems can follow suit. Rigid bureaucracies and hierarchies may gradually be replaced by societal relationships based on networks of trust. Our technologies may empower us to communicate collectively, especially in times of political upheaval, without centers of command and control. They may enable us to work in environments that better fulfill our psychological needs, empowering us to understand and participate more fully in the "big picture". They may help us replace monopolies with business environments that thrive on open collaboration and transparent intent.

In short, the goal of the information revolutionaries is to create new systems—technological, social, political, and economic—that adapt to people instead of the other way around.

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