The International Reach of New Media and Technologies

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It is appropriate in thisinternational issue to describe one of the most fascinatinginternational meetings I attended as an observer, held in Washington,D.C., August 23-25, 1997. The Club of Rome, an internationalorganization of scientists, economists, philosophers, educators, andbusiness and political leaders explored for three days the positiveand potentially negative effects of information media. Theorganization's first annual conference in the U.S. since forming in1968 was co-hosted by the Smithsonian Institution.

The Club of Romeidentifies and analyzes global issues, tries to find solutions, andworks with decision makers at all levels of society. For thismeeting, papers and discussions addressed the followingtopics.

  • What is access to the global information society and how is it used?
  • Are new technologies instruments of democracy or authority?
  • Are new media traditional tools of education or new ways of learning?
  • D'es the information society encourage greater interaction or isolation?
  • Do information technologies promote global prosperity or disparity?

Preparingfor the Future

Speakers and panelistsrepresented 52 countries and five continents and included amongothers: Former President of Columbia Belisario Betancur; Lawrence R.Klein, Nobel Laureate, University of Pennsylvania (USA); HisashiOwada, Ambassador to the United Nations (Japan); and Ruud Lubbers,Former Prime Minister of the Netherlands. Other invited speakers wereMichael Dertouzos, Director of Laboratory for Computer Science, MIT(USA), and representatives from Microsoft, Xerox, British Telecom andPicture Telecom.

As stated by Club of RomeSecretary General Bertrand Schneider (France), "We organized thisinternational conference, our first wide-ranging discussion oninformation technologies, because governments, businesses andsocieties around the world must prepare for the profoundtransformations the new media revolution will cause."

A great deal of discussiondid occur among the participants. A few summary statementsare:

  • Political, business and educational leaders must themselves recognize the importance and the consequences of the information society.
  • Information Technologies must be examined as assists to solutions of global issues, such as lifelong learning, avoidance of environmental pollution and the prevention of conflicts.
  • Increasing independence of nations, the emergence of world-wide problems and the future needs of all people pose predicaments beyond the capacity of individual countries to solve.
  • The positive effects of the New Media and Information Technologies can be enhanced and their negative consequences mitigated through participatory democracy -- consciousness of responsibilities, rights and duties, and the empowerment of all people.
  • New Information Technologies are accelerating changes in our societies. Global accessibility to information is essential for worldwide intercreativity and solidarity.
  • Though the United States has the lead at present, a need exists to move toward a more balanced infrastructure and distribution channels among various regions of the world.
  • Telecommunications, networking, the number of computers and access points to the Internet, and relative standing in terms of databases are now criteria used to assess a state's strengths, which are at least as reliable as the sole examination of the GNP or the military projection capabilities.
  • New Media can be powerful instruments of societal change. The question now becomes whether the use of the new media will revitalize the power of the people.

SomeCautions

Amid the optimism, somecautions were expressed:

Underprivileged countriesrun the risk of being left out, falling even further behind. They canno longer simply offer cheap labor or access to raw materials sincethe benefits that these resources used to entail are increasinglylosing their value in relation to the economy ofinformation.

The right to informationas well as the right to learning -- which allows us to attain oureducational goals in a conscientious and unrestricted manner -- is afundamental pre-requisite for democracy in a very open global andinterdependent society. We are still far away from such anideal.

  • In lands inhabited by two-thirds of humanity, there is no distributive network for guaranteeing access to information as seen in advanced countries.
  • The accelerating rate of change poses the greatest threat to traditional education at every level, costs too much and produces a deficient product. Schools will either embrace new media and the world of information technology or be replaced.

At the end of the meetingseveral participants expressed an interest in creating anInternational Symposium on Information Technology, which will meetevery year starting in 1998. Also, The Club of Rome decided topublish the conclusions of the above conference, entitled "The GlobalInformation Society: How New Media Transforms Society." I shall behappy to notify T.H.E. Journal readers when it becomes available.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.

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