This is one of my favourite cartoons on new information and communications technologies, or ICTs. It was on a Season’s Greetings card I received some years ago (when paper-based cards were still in wide use).
As an avid watcher of ICTs and the Information Society they help create, I have always been interested in how new technologies are perceived and adopted by different individuals and communities.
In the wake of WikiLeaks, there is renewed interest in the free flow of information. Governments and large corporations are naturally anxious about their secrets being leaked. Journalists and activists are working overtime to produce coherent stories or advocacy positions out of the massive volumes of hitherto classified information being released by WikiLeaks. And the rest of society is bewildered on just how to make sense of it all.
Can humanity survive the deluge of information unleashed by ICTs?
This is the question I posed to Sir Arthur C Clarke in a wide-ranging interview I did on the eve of the first World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in December 2003. The full exchange was published on OneWorld.net, where it is still archived.
Here’s the relevant Q&A:
Q: So you are confident that humanity will survive the current deluge of information?
A: Undoubtedly. There are many who are genuinely alarmed by the immense amount of information available to us through the Internet, television and other media. To them, I can offer little consolation other than to suggest that they put themselves in the place of their ancestors at the time the printing press was invented. ‘My God,’ they cried, ‘now there could be as many as a thousand books. How will we ever read them all?’
Strangely, as history has shown, our species survived that earlier deluge of information, and some say, even advanced because of it. I am not so much concerned with the proliferation of information as the purpose for which it is used. Technology carries with it a responsibility that we are obliged to consider.