Each period of human history is defined by items, objects and technological leaps that revolutionised the way society functioned; the stone age, the bronze age etc. Up until relatively recently, it has always been physical materials which defined us; the wheel, the discovery of fire, the use of stone, the making of tools, carts, cars, aeroplanes… the list continues. Now we can quite firmly say we have reached the information age, the only age defined by non-physical manifestation.
It anybody doubts the power of information and of the Internet as a means to disseminate knowledge, just go ahead and ask the staff at wikileaks. The right (or wrong) knowledge these days can topple governments, bring millions together, create powerful social movements, and, at the very least, can teach you the easiest way to boil an egg. It is why the largest threat to security isn’t bombs, but cyber attacks, theft of information and identity theft.
There are downsides to the nature of the Internet; being a free market for all knowledge means that it is quite literally the information trash-heap, for every truly enlightening piece to be found there’s a vast mire of piffle, opinion and misinformation. Worse yet, since anybody can have their say, most often they take this as a right not an option. Writing entire paragraphs of prose on the quality of the sandwich they had for lunch, or how great their nap was that day. Not just that, they offer and sometimes demand people subscribe to this banality, creating social networking groups with titles like “That awkward moment when you almost bump into someone on the street and do a little dance before parting”.
For whatever defences I can come up with to extol the virtues of this powerful medium, for every hard-hitting posting and truly impassioned piece that would otherwise never see publication. There’s somebody who has created a website dedicated to photoshopping ducks with cigarettes in their beak, or someone imploring that if he gets 1 000 000 views on his site he’ll name his first child Elvis. Alas with a medium like this you have to take the good with the bad.
But now that I’ve covered bad, lets talk about good, as there is plenty of that too. Chief among them is that it’s a publication without an editor, on the internet, everybody gets to hold the red pen, any opinion is valid, any statement can be made and the audience is wide enough that you will find someone who agrees. It brings people together but also encourages debate. Readers of llanitoworld will know this to be true, and that site began as a place for Mr Vasquez to write his thoughts, having overstayed his welcome with repeated submissions to the chronicle. Now he gets 1000 hits a day and the boards are awash with debate (even if its not always a clean debate).
The Internet is also faster then any other medium; people can post to their twitter or send an email in a fraction of the time it would have taken to write print and submit a letter, and it shows. People today are more informed, and they are informed sooner; they know what is happening around the world, even if they aren’t there because someone, somewhere has written about it on their facebook account for all to see. Even the politicians are adopting this new tool, albeit slowly.
It’s great to see a number of the political candidates on twitter, though their followers/following ratio is a little sad… it’s baby steps, and steps in the right direction. We also have mumblings about e-government, and though it’s a task which is theoretically easy but physically and financially much more complicated, it would be a powerful tool in today’s online world and more then one person who has had to queue to pay their bills will definitely breathe a sigh of relief if e-government ever gets off the ground.
Here’s to being a little-bit better informed.