Change2010_01: From paper to the cloud and beyond

Defining information technology today

In the second article in the series, I will discuss change in the field that touches the life of everyone of us: Information technology (computer and Internet- but also other active and passive telecommunication media).

When I say “everybody” I am not forgetting the Low Income Countries (LICs), or the non- connected (over 30% in the EU): in one way or another, e.g. also via radio or TV, everybody is touched by information technology.

And, since over the last 20 years gradually each information channel migrated to the digital platform, it is quite easy to see how, eventually, it will be the form and shape at the receiving end (TV, radio, text messages, voice, etc) that will be seen as differentiating the different channels.

The evolution on the transmission of information has been also mirrored by a parallel evolution in its storage: where you information resides started being irrelevant.

The printing method introduced by Gutenberg made feasible the publication and distribution of the “Theses” by Luther, but also on paper it has been a constant struggle on the moving concept of “acceptable” information.

Have a look at your Facebook page, and think about 2 or 3 years ago: would have been considered appropriate to see the same level of information about your “friends'” activities posted on, say, a corkboard nearby your apartment?

We have been shifting from paper to bits to Internet to “the cloud”, that strange immaterial world where all the information produced by anybody is potentially visible.

Patterns of communication

Let’s get back to the basics: what are the “means” available in this immaterial shared knowledge (also if you can find more information about each of the keywords on Wikipedia)?

Discussions about technology and information usually are overloaded with jargon, so I will limit this introduction to few categories.

lifetime get used to it, you will lose control of any information that you store in digital form: the usual rights, from asking to amend, or remove from the distribution channel- are simply impossible to assert.

shape poetry, prose, news reporting, story telling, photos, videos, music composition: you name it- and forget about it; because once you publish/share something digitally, it will evolve.

value in most traditional and non-traditional media the price of your information starts with you, and then is a negotiation with your public; but when you move onto digital, often it is the integration that generates the value.

If you look at the new digital medium trying to find new rules, you restart from zero- a waste of experience and resources[; instead, you can evolve by difference, by integrating the new medium with your experience.

Today it is the immaterial and borderless “cloud”, tomorrow something else- the proponents constantly talk about a “paradigm shift”; in reality, the roots of what they propose is almost always to be found in the past- or in the interaction between the new medium and existing patterns.

As an example: do you really believe that the possibility to go back to a shop where you already shopped before and having the shop keeper know your tastes is unheard of?

Some online companies and “innovators” believe that they are the first one- while they are simply transposing “patterns” that they saw in nature- as Sikorsky said for the helicopter.

XXI century information technology is a natural target for using patterns from other environments: it has a significant advantage- limited or no capital investment is required to produce new products and services.

By removing the technological element that was present in, say, the Gutenberg invention or the first online publication tools, information technology today is starting to behave as Lego bricks: and you do not have even to think how to distribute your creations.

In my view, probably the most “revolutionary” choice that countries can do is to consider information technology (covering all the aspects of communication- not just computers) as “the” basic building block of our future society.

In online social networks, privacy rights are removed in the afterlife: but is your private life “an asset”, to be inherited?

Do we really need to invent new patterns to communicate in the XXI century? Or, instead, we just need to re-read our history, and integrate new means with old ways?

The agents of change

The patterns of change in information technology are, in my opinion, to be based on categories similar to the ones that I presented before: lifetime, shape, cost.

The cost is dramatically reduced: I think that we will eventually have “basic information access rights”- i.e. basic communication services as part of our “citizenship package”, as the marginal cost of adding further resources is decreasing.

The lifetime and shape dictate a drastic reconsideration of everything we took for granted in communication: few kids could ridicule the thoroughfully massaged and shaped news produced as part of a well-designed marketing plan, from discussing as a crowd the potential evolution of a serial on TV, to creating “parallel universes”- but produced online and for online distribution, with quality rivalling (sometimes exceeding) that of the original source.

Information storage will probably evolve not as in Rollerball (the 1970s one), with a central computer storing a single version of everything, but, instead, as a dialectic of divergent (re)interpretations and integrations of information.

In the mass-media time of the XX century, we stopped getting non-local news mediated through, for example, a church or a political party, and transferred this role to media corporations, while now news are often submerged by a cacophony of slicker presentations of “alternative” news.

But the global nature of information technology in the XXI century implies also re-thinking the governance of information, what is acceptable globally and what is acceptable only locally- or, maybe, allow everyone to choose his/her own personal jurisdiction.

In the next article, another “trendy” issue (and that will keep being so for a long time), changing our approach in “greening” our society: should we shift more toward voting with our wallet to produce change?

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