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Chapter Three: Change as the Status Quo

Section 2: Age of Information


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 "Pounding Tea" a Mongolian dance performed by the Academy of Chinese Performing Arts. Roseanna Lee is shown during photosession in 1996.



We are witnessing the beginning of the Age of Information, which is replacing the age of energy. This is not to say that energy is about to become unimportant or that information has not always been important. Energy will continue to heat and cool our environments, move people and things from place to place, and produce our goods.



However, the relative importance of energy-intensive products and processes is on the decline in comparison to information intensives. Witness the rise of AT&T and IBM as information-based corporations. Energy remains on our minds, but mainly because our civilization, built on readily available energy, is feeling the squeeze. And while the largest private corporation in the world, Exxon, is founded on energy, it is now investing heavily in information-oriented enterprises. Additionally while we have recently released the most powerful forces of all time (fission and fusion), the usefulness of these, ironically, may be limited. We cannot really use the new bombs, and public resistance may prevent widespread use of nuclear reactors.



Those familiar with information theory may see the connection between the revolution discussed in chapter two and the emergence of this new information age. Energy is usually conceived in the classical sense as something that makes things go or work. This is thematically connected with the notions of classical mechanics. Information is structure. Without organization there is no information -- only white noise. Thus, the emergence of the information age is another aspect of the revolution manifest in Einstein's physics and the appearance of the GS framework.



The relation between information and structure can be elaborated further. All organization depends on the communication of information. Communication has already come a long way since Phidippides died delivering his warning of war after running the original marathon. Mechanical advances, planes, boats, trains, cars, have helped facilitate communication somewhat. But nothing mechanical can approach the lightning speed (literally) of telegraph, telephone, radio, and television. Events occurring half a world away can be viewed during the occurrence in the convenience of one's own living room thanks to satellite television.



These developments in electronic communications are reorganizing society. When I collected stamps in the l95O's, most were three centers; today it takes 15 cents, and tomorrow? -- mechanical communication is getting increasingly expensive. Long distance telephone, on the other hand, is becoming less expensive. Companies can now afford computer link-ups to send huge quantities of information over a phone per minute. For them, the phone is cheaper than the mail. By 1990, that will be the case for most of our communications -- today's letter will be more like tomorrow's parcel post. Interactive TV may eventually supplant the phone, enriching the possibilities for communication.



Distance will become less important. While face-to-face contact will always be important; more interactions will be conductable at a distance. More people may be able to work at home. Friends and relatives will be more able to maintain meaningful relationships over distances. Thus, I see that these advances will strengthen both the nuclear and extended families -- which will, in turn, strengthen our characters and provide more meaning in our lives. Consequently, I disagree with those who predict the continued demise of the family -- see The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler.) Thus, developments in the technology for communicating information will restructure our jobs, families, and personalities.







Book Contents

Transcultural Friendship: Our Political Future


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The Evolution of Societal Structures

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The Acceleration of Change