Saturday, March 4, 2006

Power to the People

20060304_iphoto_lorenzattractorAs Internet technologies become more and more pervasive in the so-called developed world, the behaviours of masses of people are increasingly emergent in nature. What we are now witnessing is a fight for influence and power between people and corporations who control traditional institutions and masses of connected individuals none of whom can exert sufficient influence on the system. This spells the begining of a time when power to the people becomes possible and that has enormous  implications on business, politics, society and art.

The western world was able to defeat centralized totalitarian regimes of the communist block several years ago. One of the reasons explaining why systems relying on centralized planning and authority collapsed has to do with the ability of the system to adapt to changing conditions. Centralized resource planning and a prescriptive attitude vis-à-vis the masses created bottlenecks in the operating processes of virtually all organizations under the control of those countries. That included political institutions as well as companies. In a way, the downfall of communist regimes marked the begining of a transition from the industrial model which deals with masses to the informational model which deals with smaller information producing units in the system. The dynamics of that transition were outlined in a very convincing way by Alvin Toffler in Powershift.

Now of course, one of the ironies of History is that those who helped most defeat communism and nazism (even by supporting autocratic regimes in various parts of the world and assassinating democratically elected leaders like Salvador Allendeto achieve that goal) are now creating novel types of totalitarianism... But that is beyond the scope of this post. I'll just post here a document dealing with what I see as a major violation of the principles of modern democracy that its perpetrators officially justify by a necessity of security, published recently by the Council of Europe. Download 20060228_CouncilOfEurope_Report_746631_sg-inf-_2006_.pdf

The fight between the legacy ways of the industrial age and the emergent near chaotic nature of the information age is currently raging in a number of fields of business, political, social and artisitic life. We are actually in the midst of a real war, which may be the First World War of the Information Age. While some real weapons are used in parts of the world, most of the amunition used is information and it has direct influence on the way economies, companies, countries and individuals fare. Information influences the psychological state of individuals, hence their behaviour, health and performance, which in turn defines the way larger systems function.

Information is everything and today securing access to a public, open, peer-to-peer network like the Internet is a critical objective for those who believe in true democracy (i.e. power to the people). It is also fundamental to invest heavily in providing the skills needed to navigate the cyberspace (search and cross-check information, self-protection against online threats, contribution to collaborative endeavours...) The Internet is what allows emergent social phenomena to occur and to limit the effects of organized plans of the powerful of this world to exert unchecked influence on the way the world works and the value it produces, be it economic value, social value or artistic value. The radical transformations induced by the existence of the web are analyzed in a very interesting book called La révolte du pronétariat.

That is what the whole fight for...

is all about.

This is also why I support organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons and Public Knowledge.

Examples of the fights between prescriptive (industrial age) and emergent (information age) models with a discussion on the business implications follow in further posts.

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