The Information Conundrum

Abstract: This article questions whether the Information Society will liberate us from dictatorship, wondering whether this Information Society is not merely a smokescreen, opium for rebels. The article concludes with a warning against complacency regarding indoctrination of children at school.

Editorial Introduction: This article was written from the perspective that some initiative needs to be taken to establish optionality. This perspective has been referred to in other articles as the "Action-Man"-approach. The article was first issued in Optionality in October 1994 as an alternative interpretation of optionality. The article was seen as part of an ongoing debate between the "Action Man"-approach and DonParagon's Vision of the Future.

A. Opium for the People?

Many articles these days write about the 'Information Society', supposedly a society that has changed dramatically due to increasing amounts of information that is generated by the media, business, education, etc. Such articles describe at length how fibre optics, microprocessors, storage chips and other high technology items are changing the face of society. Some regard this development with suspicion, they are concerned about a loss of privacy and decreased face-to-face contact. They generally call for more regulations by the Government. Those who welcome this development generally call for less interference by the Government, in the confidence that the greater availability of and choice in information will lead to wiser decisions as to how society should be organised.

Many critics of the 'Information Society' do welcome wider access to information, as their views are regarded as extreme and are seldom heard. However, few reject the Government as an institution. The Government imposes regulations, intervenes and controls, is inclined to use coercion and force, etc; children are subjected to all kinds of indoctrination in the name of education. Indoctrination by the Government is felt not only in education, but also in the media, in health care, in virtually every sector of society. Yet few people want to see the Government banned from education, few want the entire Government to be abolished and regard the Government as an evil concept that must be banned to history.

So the question is: will this 'Information Society' free us from the dictatorial grip of government? Are we really entering a new Era, or is this 'Information Society' just a fabrication, a smokescreen to keep us quiet and submissive to the Government of the day? Is all this talk about the wonderful world of computers not just another devious plot to make us believe that everything will be fine in future, that we should accept all the pain and misery inflicted by the Government at present? Is this notjust another case of opium for the people?

B. What is the Promise?

To answer those questions, we will need to find out what the promise of the 'Information Society' is. The central element of all these theories that the 'Information Society' is coming and that it will liberate us from dictatorship, is that dictatorship can only be enforced by making people believe in lies. Lies like: "People should do this or that, because the dictator says that it is good for the country". There are always a few elements that will automatically agree with the dictator because such people believe that they can make personal gain, but the general population usually has to make 'sacrifices' and continually has to be convinced of the virtues of the dictator's words, or rather lies. Any dictator will therefore try and control the media in order to prevent alternative views from being heard, as such views micht expose the lies.

The believers in the 'Information Revolution' predict that the result of all the progress in Information Technology will be that dictators will no longer be able to prevent people to access such alternative views. In the 1970s, satellites started broadcasting news all over the world. It still took a giant satellite-dish to receive it, but sizes are rapidly decreasing. In the 1980s, the fax enabled anyone with a telephone connection to get the news from a wide variety of sources. However, it was still expensive to make international telephone calls and such calls could be easily intercepted and tapped. But deregulation of telecommunications in the 1990s is bringing down the price of calls. Encryption of data taken from computer to computer over value-added-networks makes it ever harder for authorities to track and check information and to prevent that their lies will be exposed.

C. What is Information?

Information is often said to have different qualities than tangible, physical items. It is often said that a physical item can only be in one specific place at the time. A physical item can be manipulated, it can change its size and shape under the influence of temperature, pressure, etc, it can even fall apart into many separate physical elements, but it can never fully disappear. Neither can it be created out of nothing.

Information on the other hand can be created by our imagination and can be fully erased from the medium that carries it. Information can be sent from one place to the other, after being replicated, copied many times, without the original being affected. When an identical copy is sent to another place, the same information co-exists in two places. Destroy the information at one place and it can come back from somewhere else. This fluid nature of information makes that it is hard for dictators to eliminate views that oppose their rule.

D. The Info Conundrum

Throughout history, this artificial split between physical things and information has haunted physicists and philosophers alike, as each side denies the existence of the other world. For physicists, only nature exists, all their theories, all their evidence is derived from nature. Philosophers, on the other hand, work only with information, with logic, reasoning and rational arguments. As a result, they ignore nature, as nature does not talk back. But both sides are wrong, in the sense that they each look at things from a narrow, biased and unreal perspective.

Information cannot exist without a medium to carry or contain the information. Conversely, each physical item contains information, such as its shape, colour, size and weight. It is nonsense to separate one from the other, because they always come together.

Information technocrats often say how digital technology allows perfect replicas to be made over and over again, which makes communications reliable and enables easy dissemination of identical information throughout the world.

But it is wrong to say that something can be identical to something else, because saying this ignores the physical world. Such a statement can only come from information technocrats, because it is only valid in the world of information. Physical things never are exactly the same. For a start, they cannot be at the same place simultaneously, nor will their electrons and atoms all have the same constellation at a given time.

It is only the information that is identical, only within the domain of the information world can such a statement be made. It becomes invalid, even wrong, when applied to the wider world that includes physical items and natural forces and phenomena. To take changes that occur with information as a catalyst of what will happen to society at large, is therefore full of dangerous presumptions.

Are people today really more busy with information and were they in the past really more active physically? Look at all the people in offices, they are all busy with their little fingers on keyboards, that is physical activity! They may think about things, but so did people in the past! Today, people are much more health conscious, they will take physical exercise voluntarily, where in the past people only moved when they had to. Today, people go walking for fun, they travel, they go dancing in discos, it may well be that people are more physically active than ever in history.

And is there today really more informatian than in the past? Most information still exists in the heads of people. Is the information people consume really larger in quantity than what they consumed in the past? Does one consume more information by watching a TV or computer screen than by watching and talking to other people, which is what people used to do in the past all the time. Information technology may change the way we communicate, but is this not merely a change in style, rather than a change in quantity of communication?

People who talk about the coming 'Information Society' often say that people are more and more occupied with an ever growing amount of information, but is this really the case?

Are we not merely consuming other information than people did in the past? If so, then the argument that information is growing is weak. And are we not merely doing different things than people did in the past? The promise of the 'Information Society' was that it would free us from the dictatorship of the Government. But if more and more people are working for the Government, either directly as public servants or indirectly as suppliers of goods and services to the Government, than the opposite may be the case. Furthermore, if there is so much new information that one can now access, how much of it rejects the Government as an institution? Is rejection of the Government really something new? Do we have to wait for computers to work out that the Government is an evil institution in society? Do people reject the Government more today than they did a year ago?

E. Is all this a threat to the Government?

The promise that the 'Information Society' will get rid of the dictatorship sounds great. But can we really lean back and wait for the Government to disappear from society? How relevant is the often-described change in society from manual labor to handling information?

Of course, changes are taking place, but do such changes constitute a serious threat for the concept of government? Old-fashioned government indeed did hinge on control over physical items, over land and the products of the land, on control over infrastructure, real estate, etc. But the Government has no problems with services or information either. In some ways, the Government portrays itself more as a service provider than a landlord. Social security, education, health care, diplomatic representation, police and military protection, consumer protection, community services, financial services, legal services, the Government thrives on services. And look at what all these servants are doing in their offices: they are moving files of paper from one cabinet to the other, they are busy with information all the time. The Government still is the biggest user of computers and office equipment. So how valid is this claim that the Government will perish under the weight of information being generated in the 'Information Society'? If anything, it looks like the Government loves it, it devours information and thrives on it.

The shift from an agricultural and industrial society to a society that is more oriented on professional services is a development that few people will question. But the question is will it bring down the Government? If anything, it has made it more important for children to submit to the education system to get qualifications needed to enter certain occupations.

How relevant is the perceived decrease in importance of territorial borders? Governments are enforcing their will everywhere around the world. There may be democracy and freedom of speech in a growing number, of nations, but are there more voices that reject the Government as an institution? Much of the information is controlled by the Government itself, it is propaganda for itself. The entire education system is an example of this. Art is for a large part subsidised by the Government and the Government is keen to support those expressions of art that agree with its rule. The media are full of stories about democratic decisions, they constantly endorse the position of the police and other authorities. Even if there were more information, is this really the kind of information that will change the world?

Instead of taking decisions as owner, as a landlord, the Government's power is more and more based on control over services. Trade unions have done this all the time; they are organised by sector rather than by territory; they control a sector by the threat of going on strike in an essential service. The Government may sell airports, i.e. the land and the buildings, it may withdraw from active participation in aviation and sell its airplanes, but it will insist to regulate and being paid for this 'service'.

The point is: can we sit back and wait for the Government to collapse, unable to cope with this perceived wealth of services and information? Or does the Government feel quite comfortable in the 'Information Society'? If the latter is the case, then those who hope for the Government to disappear will have to agree that some action, some initiative is necessary to make it happen.

F. Let's make real Change

The "Action Man"-approach argues that the real 'Information Revolution' is not one that comes from across the border, but it is a change that takes place everywhere, assisted perhaps by such new technology. We must not wait for this revolution to arrive from abroad and expect to see society changing, while we are watching this process take place from the sidelines. The real change, is one that takes place in our own heart. The real change comes when we decide to stop pretending that we agree with the world as it is organised and controlled by the Government. The real change comes when we shed this cloak of complacency and take action.

If anywhere, such action should start with what is closest to our heart, i.e. by stopping the indoctrination of the minds of our children in the education system. An example of the "Action Man"-approach is the movement called Voiceless. Voiceless speaks up on behalf of those who are not allowed a voice in this society. Voiceless stands up for children more than for any other persons. Children are vulnerable, impressionable, they have not seen as much of the world yet as adults, they are more easily indoctrinated and pushed around, they have not yet developed strong personal opinions, they are not allowed to vote, to open bank accounts, their signature is not accepted, they are not allowed to decide on their own medical treatment, etc, etc. Unfortunately, our society is one in which children, more than any other persons, are voiceless.

Editorial Postscript: The Voiceless movement was discontinued in the mid-1990s due to lack of interest. Another example of the "Action Man"-approach is THEN, the Third Home Education Network. Quintessence has for some time distributed THEN Newsletters and other THEN material. A more recent discussion of the "Action Man"-approach can be found in the article Optionality: beyond Law and Order. Quintessence has also discussed other initiatives, such as the Borderless Communication Initiative. But generally, instead of describing such initiatives and movements in detail, Quintessence encourages them to set up their own WEBsite so that, if applicable, links can be established to their sites.

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