Prior to 1965, I had no hesitation in offering a book to the public. My books published before that year were relatively unique, each for its topic (1). Since then, however, the information explosion - measurable in the number of titles published and range of topics - has reached volcanic proportions. One sets out to present new findings, or a new perspective, and meanwhile an article, or book appears covering much the same ground. If agreement, then duplication. If disagreement, then the prompting of a commentary. The problem is not the process - but the pace (2). Bibliographies, abstracts, and catalogue descriptions have their limitations. It is virtually impossible to keep track of what is being said about a topic, as perspectives appear in the most unlikely places and the boundaries of disciplines shatter (3). We are, in short, threatened with information overload.
Faced with such a situation, an organism - a system, and such is human society in this context - will either collapse into a state of nervous paralysis, or set about reorganizing itself in such a manner as to manage the new environment (4). Two prominent mechanisms are part of such a process: the organism can suppress some inflow of information (we do not hear subsonic and ultrasonic sound and we do not have extra eyes in the back of our heads), and it can find means of more rapidly assembling and processing the flow of acceptable information.
We have reached the point when a scholar should think very earnestly before deciding to add to the welter of print facing us (5).
Clarion calls for self-restraint will not, however, have much
effect. Clearly, the grand system itself must change. The computer gives
us the potential mechanism of more rapidly assembling and processing
information. With network of computerized libraries, or information files,
manuscripts can be fed into the system in rough draft and instantly
correlated with other ongoing work in the same field. The traditional
concepts of "author" and "publisher" are likely to be
severely challenged in such a situation (6).
At this time, we are far short of such a situation. It is likely to develop rapidly, however; at least in the developed economies. Meanwhile, we are submerged in the conventional publishing process and the writer is obliged to ask himself why his thoughts should go to press. What audience does he seek?
I started work, on what was to have been a lengthy article or monograph, in 1970 for two principle reasons. It seemed to me that writers had said much about the mass media, but relatively little about a phenomenon which I considered of equal importance: the "minority media", the home and school videotape recorder, the 8mm/16mm, movie, the duplicating machine, etc. It also seemed to me that computer futurologists had not paid much attention to the possible use of the computer as translator of media modes; nor of the aggregate impact of computerized communications on world society in what might loosely be called its political dimension. Since then, a few writers have verged on some aspects of these themes (asterisked footnotes refer to books not existing or not consulted prior to my draft), but there is still need for the increment added by the present work. Critics may find my speculations about the eventual effect of computerized telecommunications somewhat ridiculous. A book of mine published ten years ago was equally criticized as somewhat ridiculous; yet now its analysis has become quite respectable (7). It may take a century for my present speculations to secure acceptance.
More recently I have been faced with the problem of organizing a series of special lectures, encompassing the former themes within a more general framework (8). It seems reasonable to assume that others may wish to use these notes, in courses covering the impact of communications technology on society. To the extent this book draws together an elementary introduction to such topics as cybernetics and federalism, no pretense is made of breaking new ground. The resulting perspective, however, may be valuable to those who seek a view from the hinterland of the technological empire rather than its heart. Although primarily a political scientist, I have a long-standing interest and involvement in both broadcast and print media and have observed closely the impact of American media and technology on the political culture of other countries, particularly Canada (9, 16, 28).
Most commentaries on the impact of technology are written from within the leading centres of technological change, particularly the United States (16). Such commentaries are prepared to accept all sorts of change around the world, and within the country of the commentator himself. But the commentator's country is assumed to be sacrosanct; or if the commentator has contrary thoughts he does not express them (10). Thus Ferkiss* tells us that "an independent Flanders, Scotland or Quebec might be more inclined to world citizenship than larger or more nearly self-sufficient nations." How about California, or Acadiana (the francophone portion of Louisiana centering around Lafayette), or Texas?
A panel of the 1970 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, appropriately gathered in the Roman Room of a convention hotel, discussed technology assessment as though the process would take place in the United States, and particularly in Congress. A large factor in the discussion was the activities or the globally-operative corporation and the military. Technology assessment is a global concern. When Ferkiss tells us that "economically the world is becoming one system, and at a certain level the new technological civilization is even becoming planetary in scope," we wholeheartedly agree. When he continues by suggesting that "its major points of concentration and its apexes of control will be a few nations, most notably the United States," we cry out for a parliament of Man.
From time to time, I am told that I write as a chauvinist when commenting on Canadian affairs, and as an internationalist on other occasions (11). I am, in fact, an internationalist. It seems to me, however, that the consolidation of a handful of superpower empires is not the best way to arrive at a parliament of Man. Such consolidation may be unavoidable (12). This does not oblige us to love it, nor laud it.
One could say there is an even chance the world will be devestated before any of our more optimistic hopes can be realized in coming decades or centuries. Nearly ever major arms escalation has resulted in war (26). Yet for twenty and more years we have watched the most deadly such race in history and the big blow may never come. Communication facilitates conflict, as well as cooperation. Yet as never before in human history, communication has made us all aware of the terrible price to be paid if nuclear war is waged between the giants.
There is also an even chance that electronic (and medical) technology could be used to pacify and manipulate Man, rather than liberate his body and spirit (13). We have the technological capacity to initiate 1984 in 1974, and in some respects have moved in that nightmarish direction. But an opposing spirit is also at work. The emphasis in this book is on that more optimistic spirit. Despite the obvious contrary indications, I think we can visualize a point in time when international and even civil warfare will quite rapidly come to a halt (which is not to say that all forms of human conflict will cease). One possibility is the self destruction of all mankind. I have in mind a different possibility, however.
A time of troubles is characteristic of a subscendental system. The latter may be defined as a loose relationship in which the whole portrays qualities of a lower order than one or more of the parts (our present global "system" has less social integration than such particular component parts at, say, Norway). At a point in time, however, a take off stage is crystalized or catalyzed and a new structuring moves rapidly through an embryonic state to reveal qualities which transcend the most advanced of the subscendental system's parts (14). (Such change does not bring a static utopia; each stage solves some problems and creates others).
At a certain stage in the process of contemporary human evolution, some catalyst may contribute the element required to shift Mankind to the stage of global consciousness and organization. There are many possible phenomena which might provide such a catalyst, ranging from the traditional Christian Second Coming to the science fiction writer's galactic messenger. A more prosaic phenomenon might be the global communication system at a certain level of content and structure. The content would relate very much to the question of emerging values; the structure might both reflect and facilitate the emergence of those values (15). For this reason, it is important to understand, and mold, the communications technology around which we build the future system of Mankind.
Two concluding apologies: One, to the female reader, I emphasize that the generic term "man" is always used in this book as including woman. The language needs an equivalent of "Ms" for "he" and "she"; though I detest that shade of liberationist thought which would make "it" a neutered equivalent of she and he. Two, the following structure is not a wall, constructed of uniform building blocks, neat in appearance. It is a mosaic terrace, of heterogeneous pavement, offering a path but looking quite disjointed if one makes the mistake of looking at the parts in isolation, rather than following the whole. The sequence of topics could be arranged in many ways: I hope the reader will follow each of them (even if many are familiar) in order to appreciate the specific perspective in each, which underlies the "shorthand" of the concluding chapter.
*Victor C. Ferkiss, Technological Man: The Myth and The Reality (Mentor, 1970). The above quotations are from pages 215, 166.
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