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close this bookUnited Nations University - Work in Progress Newsletter - Volume 15, Number 1, 1998 (UNU, 1998, 12 pages)
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentCybergrowth: Pathway to sustainable development?
View the documentShrinking knowledge frontiers
View the documentWiring environmental education
View the documentInformation technology: Panacea or peril?
View the documentFinding the right blend
View the documentOrganizing for growth...
View the documentIn Latin American cities... A chancy life in cyberspace
View the document"The only true international currency"
View the documentUNU's Ecological Homepage:
View the documentSoftware for development
View the documentNetworking the Sun's power
View the documentThe global debate ...

The global debate ...

The Information Revolution has been widely discussed in scientific papers, the media and the arts. Most welcome the new technology, but others fear its social consequences. Could it be a separating force in society? Are we being overwhelmed by new information? On this page is a sampling from the global debate:

"We have for the first time an economy based on a key resource that is not only renewable, but self-generating. Running out of information is not a problem, but drowning in it is."

John Naisbitt, Megatrends.

"Information technology makes fewer claims on resources than previous technologies, and is potentially more environmentally friendly. Whereas cars, railways and steam engines were heavy users of raw materials and energy, IT is speeding up the shift towards a so-called 'weightless' economy, in which a growing slice of output take the form of intangible goods. IT also offers huge potential for reducing pollution and congestion through telework and teleshopping that will make many journeys unnecessary. (It is estimated) that by 2005 a fifth of all workers in rich countries will be teleworking, either part-time or full-time."

Pam Woodall, "The hitchhiker's guide to cybernomics," The Economist (1996).

"Convergence is happening not only between audio and video but between computers and communication. There is a fundamental change in society, and this is our opportunity."

Nobuyuki Idei, President, Sony Corporation.

"Conduit through which we conduct our lives."

"Access to the information highway may prove to be less a question of privilege or position than one of the basic ability to function in a democratic society. It may determine how well people are educated, the kind of job they eventually get, how they are retrained if they lose their job, how much access they have to their government and how they will learn about the critical issues affecting them and the country. No less an expert than Mitch Kapor, co-founder of Lotus Development Corp. and now president of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, feels that those who do not have access 'will be highly correlated with the general have-nots. Early in the next century the network will become the major conduit through which we conduct our lives. Any disenfranchisement will be very severe'."

Suneel Ratan, "A New Divide Between Haves and Have-nots?" Time (Special Cyberspace issue, Spring 1993).

"Today, the English language contains roughly 500,000 usable words, five times more than during the time of Shakespeare. The number of books in top libraries doubles every 14 years....You don't need to know everything, you just have to know where to find it."

Richard Saul Wurman, Information Anxiety .

"Does it connect?"

"The human virtues are about connection - achieving it, sustaining in it, believing in it - while the sins, as Nietzsche held, are about separation. I find it hard to believe that the current explosion of digital technology, which seems to be about connecting everything to everything else, will do anything but pump energy into the space where the virtues live. Here is the primary choice we're given as we tumble over the falls into the future. When we behold some new species of technology, we should ask ourselves one question: does it connect or does it separate? And since every powerful technology will probably do a lot of both, we should ask which of these properties is naturally dominant. For example, the telephone both connects and separates, but you can argue persuasively that it more often than not connects. Television both connects and separates, but a close look at America reveals the wreckage of its savage predisposition to separate."

John Perry Barlow, "It's a Poor Workman Who Blames His Tools," Wired Scenarios (1995).

"Automation meant that jobs which had once allowed (workers) to use their bodily presence in the service of interpersonal exchange and collaboration now require their bodily presence in the service of routine interaction with a machine. Jobs that one required their voices now insisted they be mute.... They had been disinherited from the management process and driven into the confines of their own individual body space. As a result, the employees in each office became increasingly engulfed in the immediate sensations of physical discomfort."

Shoshana Zuboff, Smart Machine.

"Helping us understand global environment...."

"Computers offer enormous power for collecting, storing and organizing information that can help us understand the global environment and our effect on it. Systems for performing these tasks fall into two main categories: monitoring and modelling. Monitoring systems are used to study and keep track of industrial and natural processes - such as the release of carbon dioxide, or the rise in atmospheric temperature. Modelling systems are used to test theories about complex processes, such as the causal relationship between carbon dioxide and atmospheric temperature thereby allowing the simulation of experiments too dangerous or time-consuming to conduct in the "real world."

John E. Young, Global Network: Computers in a Sustainable Society (Worldwatch Institute).

"The new technological era in education should promote greater equity of access to good education. Before, when schooling was limited to traditional buildings and managed by a state bureaucracy, poor children usually got the least-experienced teachers and the poorest quality of instruction. In the new era, technology makes it possible to provide exactly the same quality of instruction to every child. Using the new technologies, all children will have access to exactly the same electronics-teaching programs, learning at their own speed and in setting of their own choosing.... The prospects for education in the age of technology are nearly boundless."

Diane Ravitch, "The Next 150 Years," The Economist (1993).

"More new information has been produced in the last 30 years than in the previous 5,000. About 1,000 books are published internationally every day."

Peter Large, The Micro Revolution Revisited.

"Over the next decade, most information, including television, is expected to assume the same digital form as computer data. And the spread of mobile telephones is already bringing mobile computing in its wake. Some of the latest laptop computers can already communicate over the airwaves. More powerful chips seem certain to put enormous computing power into machines small enough to fit into the palm of the hand. More powerful software will make computers of any size and shape easier to use."

David Manasian, "The Computer Industry," The Economist (1993)

"Cheaper, but...."

"There are two ways to get something done. You can find one group trained to accomplish things the old-fashioned way. Or you can pay another group to set up and maintain machines and systems that will do the same work with fewer employees - of the older category of worker. You are not really replacing people with machines; you are replacing one kind of person-plus-machine with another kind of machine-plus-person.... Automatic teller systems require programmers and technicians paid four times as much as bank tellers. If things go well, banks need less than a quarter of the staff, and they come out ahead. But it is notoriously difficult to predict all problems, or their levels of difficulty, in advance. And one mark of newer technology is that while it is cheaper in routine, it is expensive to correct and modify."

Edward Tenner, Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences.

"While the capacities of electronic hardware have been growing exponentially - in say laser optics or microcomputers - there has not been a corresponding gain in human capacity."

Orrin Klapp, Overload and Boredom.

Peoria competing with Pohang

"The radical transformation of the nature of our job markets, as we work less with atoms and more with bits, will happen at just about the same time the 2 billion-strong labour force of India and China starts to come on-line (literally). A self-employed software designer in Peoria will be competing with his or her counterpart in Pohang. A digital typographer in Madrid will do the same with one in Madras. American companies are already outsourcing hardware developments and software production to Russia and India, not to find cheap manual labour but to secure a highly skilled intellectual force seemingly prepared to work harder, faster, and in a more disciplined fashion than those in our own country."

"As the business world globalizes and the Internet grows, we will start to see a seamless digital workplace. Long before political harmony and long before the GATT talks can reach agreement on the tariff and trade of atoms, bits will be borderless, stored and manipulated with absolutely no respect to geopolitical boundaries."

Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital.

"The world of today is as different from the world in which I was born as that world was from Julius Caesar's. I was born in the middle of human history to date - roughly. Almost as much has happened since I was born as happened before."

Kenneth Boulding, first UNU Visiting Scholar (1984).

"The new information technologies have an obvious positive and enhancing role to play in expanding humanity's access to scientific knowledge. These technologies will no doubt exert an important force on expanding international scientific cooperation. The role of the United Nations University in this respect is clearly stated in its Charter: to enhance communication among scholars, between scholars and other communities - the goal being dissemination of scholarly work. In particular, UNU seeks to reach out to the scholar in the developing world who has often been isolated from the global mainstream. I firmly believe that the new information technologies can be an invaluable tool in furtherance of this Charter objective."

Ines Wesley Tanaskovic, Coordinator, UNU Programme on Microprocessors and Informatics.

Glad to be back!

We apologize for the long hiatus in publishing Work in Progress - since the issue on UN peace-keeping in June 1995 (Vol. 14, No. 3). The delay was due to an overall reorganization of the University's dissemination activities. From here on, we hope very much to publish two issues of Work in Progress per year, covering various aspects of UNU's work on urgent global concerns. Letters to the Editor are always welcome. And, of course, you can also reach us via Email at - Editor

Work in Progress

A Review of Research Activities of the United Nations University

Volume 15 Number 1/Spring 1998

Public Affairs Section
The United Nations University
Editor: Manfred F. Boemeke
Consulting Editor: John M. Fenton (New York, USA)
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Work in Progress aims at providing an edited sampling of the research by, or of interest to, the United Nations University. UNU copyrighted articles may be reprinted without provided credit is given to Work in Progress (United Nations University) and a copy is sent to the Editor. A Japanese edition is also available.