The Information Revolution


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The information network created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 1990 to connect people to knowledge has become an important place to navigate who and what we know, as well as who we think we are. But how much of a revolution is it? This lecture will trace some of the most important developments in social uses of information technologies in order to ultimately argue that the Web does offer unprecedented opportunities to access information and galvanise communities of practice, but that the impact of this new medium will reflect an evolution rather than a revolution of communication practices.

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The Information Revolution

  1. 1. The Information Revolution Aleks Krotoski Undergraduate Lecture Series Oxford Internet Institute 11 October 2010
  2. 2. In the beginning <ul><li>“ I invented the Web because I needed it really. Because it was so frustrating that it didn’t exist.” </li></ul><ul><li>Sir Tim Berners-Lee </li></ul>
  3. 3. It caught on <ul><li>“ The headless, anarchic, million-limbed Internet is spreading like bread-mold. Any computer of sufficient power is a potential spore for the Internet.” </li></ul><ul><li>Bruce Stirling, 1993 </li></ul>
  4. 4. Because people came to the Web <ul><li>“ It was a place where the crowds of Dead Heads, who went to Grateful Dead concerts and recorded the gigs, could freely swap tapes and swap gossip. They’d been doing that helter skelter by email, and The WELL gave them a place where they could conjoin all of those conversations in one place.” </li></ul><ul><li>Stewart Brand, founder of The Well </li></ul>
  5. 5. But it had shortcomings <ul><li>Giant library </li></ul><ul><li>Technological gatekeepers </li></ul><ul><li>Technophiles </li></ul>
  6. 6. Yet, there were important functions (1990-2003) <ul><li>Share information </li></ul><ul><li>Communities of Practice </li></ul>
  7. 7. Fast Forward to Evolution: the man (hearts) the machine <ul><li>Web 2.0 is: </li></ul><ul><li>“ A set of principles and practices that tie together a veritable solar system of sites that demonstrate some or all of those principles at a varying distance from that core.” </li></ul><ul><li>Tim O’Reilly, 2005 </li></ul>
  8. 8. Functions of the Web 2003-2010 <ul><li>Share information </li></ul><ul><li>Communities of Practice </li></ul><ul><li>Open Access </li></ul><ul><li>Self-publishing </li></ul><ul><li>Hyperconnectivity </li></ul>
  9. 9. The World-Changing Web (Proposed) <ul><li>Democratisation of Knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Transformation of the Nation-State </li></ul><ul><li>Self-Actualisation </li></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>“ ...a new communications technology was developed that allowed people to communicate almost instantly across great distances, in effect shrinking the world faster and further than ever before . A worldwide communications network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionised business practice , gave rise to new forms of crime , and inundated its users with a deluge of information , Romances blossomed over the wires. Secret codes were devised by some users, and cracked by others. The benefits of the network were relentlessly hyped by its advocates, and dismissed by the skeptics. Governments and regulators tried and failed to control the new medium. Attitudes to everything from newsgathering to diplomacy had to be completely rethought . Meanwhile, out of the wires, a technological subculture with its own customs and vocabulary was establishing itself.” </li></ul><ul><li>Tom Standage, 1998 </li></ul>
  11. 11. That was written about the telegraph
  12. 12. Reality check: <ul><li>“ Each defining technology represents an important breakthrough in the ability of humans to communicate with each other; each enables important changes in how we preserve , update and disseminate knowledge; how we retrieve knowledge; the ownership of knowledge; and how we acquire knowledge.” </li></ul><ul><li>Dewar, 2000 </li></ul><ul><li>“ Any technology tends to create a new human environment …Technological environments are not merely passive containers of people but are active processes that reshape people and other technologies alike…” </li></ul><ul><li>McLuhan, 1962 </li></ul>
  13. 13. What social transformation can we actually expect from this information revolution?
  14. 14. Case Study 1: The Printing Press <ul><li>Invented by Gutenberg in 1450 </li></ul><ul><li>By 1500, 13 million books were circulating in a Europe of 100 million people </li></ul><ul><li>In that time, as many book copies were printed as had been produced in the previous millennium by scribes (Toffler, 1991) </li></ul>
  15. 15. The hype (then) <ul><li>“ Printing, gunpowder and the compass changed the whole state and face of things throughout the world.” </li></ul><ul><li>Francis Bacon (1561-1626) </li></ul><ul><li>“ The art of printing will so spread knowledge that the common people, knowing their own rights and liberties, will not be governed by way of oppression.” </li></ul><ul><li>Francis Bacon (1561-1626) </li></ul>
  16. 16. Social implications <ul><li>The printing press revolutionised access to information: </li></ul><ul><li>It changed the conditions under which information was collected, stored, retrieved, criticised, discovered, and promoted (Eisenstein, 1979) </li></ul><ul><li>Implicated in the Reformation, the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution </li></ul>
  17. 17. Social transformations: Democratisation of knowledge <ul><li>Access to information: no more relying on authority or gatekeepers to interpret </li></ul><ul><li>Gospel truths re-cast: no more single infallible text </li></ul><ul><li>Publicising science: bridging the gap between town and gown </li></ul>
  18. 18. Social transformations: Transformation of Nation-State <ul><li>&quot;Printing from movable types created a quite unexpected new environment - it created the PUBLIC . Manuscript technology did not have the intensity or power of extension necessary to create publics on a national scale. </li></ul><ul><li>What we have called &quot;nations&quot; in recent centuries did not, and could not, precede the advent of Gutenberg technology any more than they can survive the advent of electric circuitry with its power of totally involving all people in all other people.” </li></ul><ul><li>Marshall McLuhan, 1962 </li></ul>
  19. 19. Social transformations: Self-actualisation <ul><li>Development of modern forms of consciousness: </li></ul><ul><li>“ Print culture, because it allows for cumulative advance of knowledge, views the past from a fixed distance.” </li></ul><ul><li>Eisenstein, 1979 </li></ul>
  20. 20. Social transformations: Rules and Regulations <ul><li>Dissent and subversive views should be tolerated, but controlled </li></ul>
  21. 21. Case Study 2: The Telegraph <ul><li>Invented by William Fothergill Cooke and Samuel F.B. Morse in parallel in the mid-1700s </li></ul><ul><li>By the time the telephone arrived, it criss-crossed the world, connecting all continents. </li></ul>
  22. 22. The hype (then) <ul><li>“ The Atlantic Telegraph - that instantaneous highway of thought between the Old and New Worlds.” </li></ul><ul><li>Scientific American, 1858 </li></ul><ul><li>“ All the inhabitants of the earth would be brought into one intellectual neighbourhood.” </li></ul><ul><li>Alonzo Hackman, 1846 </li></ul><ul><li>“ The demands for the telgraph have been constantly increasing; they have been spread over every civilized country in the wortld, and have become, by usage, absolutely necessary for the well-being of society” </li></ul><ul><li>New York Times, 3 April 1872 </li></ul>
  23. 23. The hype (cont) <ul><li>“’ Tis done! The angry sea consents. </li></ul><ul><li>The nations stand no more apart; </li></ul><ul><li>With clasped hands of the continents, </li></ul><ul><li>Feel the throbbing of each other’s hearts. </li></ul><ul><li>Speed, speed the cable, let it run. </li></ul><ul><li>A loving girdle ‘round the earth </li></ul><ul><li>Till all the nations ‘neath the sun </li></ul><ul><li>Shall be as brothers of one hearth” </li></ul>
  24. 24. Actual social implications <ul><li>The telegraph revolutionised temporality of information: </li></ul><ul><li>Fiddler Dick </li></ul><ul><li>Commerce </li></ul><ul><li>Synchronous communication </li></ul><ul><li>Information overload </li></ul>
  25. 25. Another implication <ul><li>“ The telegraph was the first technology to seized upon as a panacea. Given its potential to change the world, the telegraph was soon being hailed as a means to solving the world's problems... it failed to do so, of course - but we have been pinning the same hope on other new technologies ever since.” </li></ul><ul><li>Tom Standage, 1998 </li></ul>
  26. 26. So.
  27. 27. What is uniquely Web? <ul><li>Unfettered access </li></ul><ul><li>“ You don’t need to be a technologist to be an activist.” </li></ul><ul><li>Peter Sunde, co-founder of The Pirate Bay </li></ul><ul><li>Opportunity to self-publish </li></ul><ul><li>“ The Web has enabled people to participate in creating their own media.” </li></ul><ul><li>Christopher “moot” Poole, founder of 4chan </li></ul>
  28. 28. What is uniquely Web? <ul><li>Speed of dissemination </li></ul><ul><li>From one-to-many to many-to-many </li></ul><ul><li>Hyperconnectivity </li></ul><ul><li>“ In three clicks you can start somewhere and end up somewhere you never dreamed of, with information, perspective or insight that you'd never have found. One of the joys of the Internet is finding and reading something you think is wonderful that you'd never have found without it.” </li></ul><ul><li>Charles Leadbeater, author of WeThink </li></ul>
  29. 29. The World-Changing Web (Proposed) (Revisited) <ul><li>Democratisation of Knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Transformation of the Nation-State </li></ul><ul><li>Self-Actualisation </li></ul>
  30. 30. Democratisation of Knowledge <ul><li>Old Media Creators </li></ul><ul><li>&quot;In any age, society needs its interpreters. In the past they were - in succession - theologians, historians and scientists. Each of these groups was corruptible; each had its own rogue elements. Now society's interpreters are undoubtedly the media.” </li></ul><ul><li>Bishop of Wakefield, Guardian, 2008 </li></ul><ul><li>New Media Creators </li></ul><ul><li>“ With the Web, people in power can't edit or co-opt what we've said. Every newspaper you read has an agenda. Every paper has a school of thought they want to promote. With the web, I can publish whatever I want to say. They can't censor our voices any longer.” </li></ul><ul><li>Jody MacIntyre, Life On Wheels </li></ul>
  31. 31. Democratisation of Knowledge: Interpreters <ul><li>Old Media Audiences </li></ul><ul><li>&quot;What we know about the world is largely based on what the media decide to tell us. More specifically, the result of this mediated view of the world is that the priorities of the media strongly influence the priorities of the public.&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>Walter Lippmann, 1922 </li></ul>
  32. 32. Democratisation of Knowledge: Quantity <ul><li>” Despite the monopolies of global news organisations, 'there is more diversity of information than would have been considered possible in the mainstream media even two decades ago” </li></ul><ul><li>J Schultz </li></ul><ul><li>“ Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until  2003. That’s something like five exabytes of data. The real issue is user-generated content .” </li></ul><ul><li>Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, August 2010 </li></ul>
  33. 33. Democratisation of Knowledge: Public access <ul><li>Total British Library holdings now: </li></ul><ul><li>658.4 linear km in the vaults </li></ul><ul><li>100 Tb held in the digital library store. </li></ul><ul><li>Anticipated growth of 10km per year </li></ul>
  34. 34. BUT <ul><li>The potential for disinformation can lead to: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Confirmation biases </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Re-emergence of hierarchy </li></ul></ul>
  35. 35. Transformation of the Nation-State <ul><li>Transnational identities </li></ul><ul><li>Communities of Practice </li></ul><ul><li>Anonymous </li></ul><ul><li>CyberWar </li></ul>
  36. 36. BUT: National Security <ul><li>&quot;In three short decades, the internet has grown from the realm of geeks and academics into a vast engine that regulates and influences global c ommercial, political, social and now military interaction. Neuroscientists tell us that it is changing the development of our cerebral wiring in childhood and adolescence. Social scientists and civil libertarians warn that our privacy is being eroded, as ever more of our life is mediated by the web. It should probably come as no surprise that governments believe control of this epoch-making t echnology is far too important to be left in the hands of idiots like you and me .” </li></ul><ul><li>Misha Glenny, 8 October 2010, FT Magazine </li></ul>
  37. 37. BUT: Regulation <ul><li>Digital Economy Act (UK) </li></ul><ul><li>Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). It's currently being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. (USA) </li></ul>
  38. 38. BUT: The Spinternet <ul><li>The Web has the potential to be the ultimate propaganda tool: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Censorship </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Infiltration </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Press & PR </li></ul></ul>
  39. 39. BUT: Digital Imperialism
  40. 40. Transforming the social: Hyperconnectivity <ul><li>Many-to-Many </li></ul><ul><li>In the Loop </li></ul>
  41. 41. BUT <ul><li>Slacktivism & social capital </li></ul><ul><li>Identity crisis </li></ul><ul><li>“ It used to be, ‘I have an emotion, I will share’. Now it’s, ‘I will share, I have an emotion’.” </li></ul><ul><li>Prof Sherry Turkle, 2009 </li></ul>
  42. 42. So. <ul><li>We’ve been here before. </li></ul><ul><li>But we’re also experiencing something new. </li></ul><ul><li>Enlightenment? Reformation? Renaissance? </li></ul>
  43. 43. The information evolution is here. Thank you.
  44. 44. A few good references <ul><li>Dewar, J.A. (2000). The Information Age and the Printing Press: Looking Backward to See Ahead (retrieved 5 October 2010). </li></ul><ul><li>Eisenstein, E.L. (1979). The Printing Press as an Agent of Change , Cambridge University Press: New York. </li></ul><ul><li>McLuhan (1962). The Gutenberg Galaxy: The making of typographic man, University of Toronto Press: Toronto. </li></ul><ul><li>Standage, T. (1998). The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers . Walker & Co. </li></ul>