Table 3: Dimensions of the Infomation Society
See separate Commentary. The table is followed by comments on each Arena
Arena l: Hardware / Mode
On the technical side this is the well-developed discussion in the telecommunication community, involving experts in computers, satellite communications and audio-visual equipment. It is above all the domain of the manufacturers of hardware and of the government ministries responsible for communications and broadcasting. From this arena emerges such innovations as facsimile, videodisks, videotext, cable TV, usually without any understanding whatsover of the social or conceptual impIications of such innovations.
The main issues raised by this arena which are of relevance to associations include:
(a) the availability of such innovations (especially in developing countries), insofar as there is a very real risk of establishing a fundamental divide between those with access to such innovations and those forced to live as 'information outlaws' outside the information society which the innovations make possible. Such innovations are already creating a class of individuals and groups which is below a new poverty line - that of the 'information poor'. Associations are especially exposed to this problem through the manner in which their operations are affected by rising costs of communication, of which the best example is cost of postage. Such increases, apparently innocent, can easily come to be used as a new form of repression.
(b) the rate of technical innovation is such that there is a continuing problem of maintenance and of compatibility with other equipment (both of the same generation and of a new generation). This is especially severe in developing countries, where, in addition to the problem of acquiring spare parts, there is frequently a difficulty with surges and disruptions in the power supply (which can severely damage computer equipment).
(c) such equipment creates new forms of dependency, making it difficult for organizations and individuals to function should such equipment breakdown. (The problem is analogous to that created by the breakdown of an automobile or of the public transport system, for whatever reason).
(d) such equipment lends itself to new forms of abuse, some of which may be institutionalized. Already it is possible to detect the emergence of 'information cartels' in embryonic form which could presumably come to parallel the situation prevailing in the petroleum industry or with respect to other commodities. At the national level this is reflected in the tight government monopoly, maintained in many countries, on access to certain modes of communication.
(e) a particular source of possible abuse, which has received considerable attention, is that of 'transborder data flows'.
Arena Il: Hardware / Software
From the technical point of view, this arena is concerned with such questions as:
(a) whether specific forms of software and hardware are compatible. Hardware innovations of any significance necessitate new software to take advantage of those innovations, or at least to adapt existing software to the new equipment (to ensure continuity from the user's perspective);
(b) development of more sophisticated software to handle new applications, or else to handle existing applications more efficiently;
(c) ensuring that the man-machine interface is 'user-friendly', namely the development of software which facilitates the access of the user to the machine (especially in the case of neophytes), rather than obliging the user to adjust to the particular idiosyncracies of the equipment;
(d) the elimination of 'bugs' in equipment, software and systems, whether initially or when upgraded;
(e) problems of upgrading applications from one generation of hardware/software to another with the minimum of disruption. This includes the problemn of becoming 'locked into' a particular hardware/software combination beyond which it becomes impossible to develop without a severe cost penalty;
(f) the vulnerability of sophisticated hardware/software systems to sabotage and penetration by outsiders;
(9) abuse of hardware/software systems, including 'computer crime'.
Arena III: Hardware / Content
In this arena issues such as the following are debated:
(a) whether particular content can be adequately handled by particular hardware, and especially whether handling the content with that hardware does not involve adaptations which distort the content in an unacceptable manner;
(b) whether dependence on particular hardware is compatible with particular cultures or sub-cultures, and whether the necessary adaptations result in an unacceptable form of 'packaged' of homogenized culture;
(c) the 'mind-numbing' effects of exposure to certain forms of hardware (e.g. TV addicts, computer junkies);
(d) the questions of media-induced violence, encouragement of permissiveness, and exposure to obscenity, as leading to the erosion of traditional values:
(e) increase in electronic surveillance and invasions of privacy;
(f) emergence of a 'blip culture', as noted by Alvin Toffler: 'Instead of receiving long, related 'strings' of ideas, organized or synthesized for us, we are increasingly exposed to short, modular blips of information - ads, commands, theories shreds of news...that refuse to fit neatly into our pre-existing mental files.' (12. D. 182)
Arena IV: Groupware / Mode
In this arena the focus of discussion covers issues such as the following:
(a) adaptation of an organization, community or family structure to the challenges and opportunities of new media and new supplies of information. The focus in an organization is often on the need for retraining older people and the special facility of younger people (in the case of computers), as well as on the ability of the body to adapt its procedures. In the case of the mass media, for example, the concern is with whether the body interacts appropriately with the media and how to project its 'image' appropriately to a wider audience;
(b) the cost of adapting as compared with the cost of not adapting (or not adapting at the same rate as associated bodies with which it normally works or competes for resources);
(c) the appropriateness of some new modes in the light of the aims of the organization. For example, many 'alternative' bodies have delayed making use of computers and data networks precisely because they were perceived as reinforcing the 'high-tech' philosophy to which they were opposed;
(d) erosion of traditional communities and family structures through orientation to electronic media, especially television;
(e) increasing dependency of organizations, including government, on the media and the manner in which they are perceived through the media. Vulnerability of such bodies to the irresponsible quirks of the media and its amplification of fickle reactions in public opinion;
(f) manipulation of media and data by groups in support of their special interests and to the detriment of their opponents (such as in the skilled use of rumour, scandal and 'muck-raking').
Arena V: Mode / Conceptware
The discussion most characteristic of this arena is that in media-related contexts around the question of new 'concepts' or new media 'packages'. It is on the marketing of such 'concepts' that much attention is focussed by public relations and advertising agencies. Such concepts might be described as ways of interrelating available modes in order to achieve a significant new impact. Most campaigns and other media events originate from such concepts, by which the necessary investment is attracted, and which guide the planning through which they are implemented. The success of competing advertising campaigns is largely determined by the relative originality of the governing concepts. In this sense a concept is equivalent to a military strategy. Associations endeavouring to attract funding for a new project must also necessarily find ways to present the underlying 'concept'.
Issues in this arena include:
(a) the struggle to identify potentially successful concepts and the best way to present or communicate such a concept to investors or to a target group to which it must be 'sold';
(b) the problem of protecting people from manipulative concepts to which they have little resistance (e.g. overselling techniques used in developing countries);
(c) the insidious, and potentially corrupting, nature of certain communication concepts associated with some media (e.g. as perceived by those who reject television);
(d) communication concepts perceived as technocratic exploitation or dehumanizing (e.g. as perceived by those who argue for more highly contextual or participative forms, such as street theatre);
(e) the need to identify and reject manipulative symbols (e.g. the attack on certain children's books by those with feminist or racial concerns) or the concern by those with particular political views about the disinformation strategies employed by those with opposing views.
Arena Vl: Groupware / Software
Discussion in this arena concerns the appropriateness of classic forms of social organization in the face of existing societal problems and given the opportunity and challenges of the information society. Issues include:
(a) the need for 'alternative' styles of organization and the rules by which they can usefully operate;
(b) the requisite complexity of organization if it is to respond effectively to any increasingly complex environment (cf Ashby's Law from cybernetics requiring that an effective controlling organization be at least as complex as the phenomena that it needs to control);
(c) the inadequacy of minimalistic and token forms of social innovation;
(d) the possibility of a 'global village' based on emerging data and other networks;
(e) the design of computer software to support new kinds of organization (e.g. computer conferencing 'conferences') and to sustain meta-stable coalitions.
Arena Vll: Groupware / Content
Whereas the previous arena is concerned with innovative forms of social organization to take real advantage of the information society in the face of societal problems, this arena is concerned with the appropriateness of the content and the possibilities of innovative content.
(a) the challenge of 'empire-building' in bureaucratic structures (as well as in invisible colleges of academics), whereby 'territory' is staked out in relation to some topic and then vigorously, and often irrationally, defended against incursion by outsiders;
(b) means of countering the reductionist tendencies practised by establishment institutions when handling innovative subject areas (in which they have been obliged politically to demonstrate some competence) but to which their structures are not adapted (e.g. treatment of interdisciplinarity by UNESCO, treatment of human development by ILO, WHO and UNESCO);
(c) use of disinformation and censorship by organizations and the means of countering their effects;
(d) the challenge of reflecting networks of substantive relationships (e.g. networks of environmental problems) in appropriate patterns of communication between bodies responsible for them individually;
(e) the different (and complementary) types of content that need to be supplied by different forms of organization, if the network they constitute is to function in a coherent and effective manner.
Arena VIII: Software / Conceptware
Discussion in this arena concerns the appropriateness of classic forms of conceptual organization in the face of recent conceptual advances, the complexity of the challenges faced by society and the opportunities of the information society.
(a) the problem of handling complexity;
(b) the wider significance of emerging paradigms from fundamental physics, their relationship to consciousness and to non-Western (and traditional) modes of thought (hitherto rejected as 'primitive' by main stream Western thinking and the institutions to which it gives rise);
(c) the potential of the holographic metaphor as offering new insights into realistic ways of organizing information appropriate to any global or holistic approach;
(d) 'lateral thinking' procedures, in contrast to linear thinking, as offering a means of breaking out of unfruitful patterns of thought;
(e) the challenge of 'marrying' hierarchical modes of organization with non-hierarchical, associative modes.
Arena IX: Conceptware / Content
Whereas the previous group of arenas is characterized by discussions which are critical of the appropriateness of modes of organization inherited from the past as 'tried and true', such discussions tend to reject any critical reflection on the innovations which they favour as 'positive'. Any such questioning tends to be perceived as counterproductive and 'negative'. By contrast discussions in this arena introduce an essentially self-reflective and self-critical dimension.
(a) the mind-set of the innovator as a constraint on appropriate innovation for others, especially those in other cultures;
(b) sensitivity to those dimensions of alternative paradigms (whether from other disciplines or cultures) which call into question aspects of the paradigm with which the person or organization is currently obliged to work - and the tendency to reject such sensitivity with appropriate rationalizations;
(c) the problem of single-factor explanations (conceptual 'tunnel vision') and the single solution to any problem complex to which they give rise;
(d) indiscriminate relativism and the problem of transcending it;
(e) the issue of self-reference and self-reflextiveness;
(f) disagreement, incommensurability, discontinuity and paradox, and the appropriate conceptual means of containing' them.
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