Masthead CMC Magazine / April 1, 1996

The Status of the Information Society

by Michel Bauwens

A little over a year ago in February, I attended two contrasting events on the "information society:" the official European summit held in Brussels and the competing counter-summit organized by a number of left-wing organizations. Because of polarized views of technology, I found both events to be profoundly frustrating.

On the official side were the political and industrial establishments who view the information society as a panacea for the present series of crises (environmental crises, employment crisis, etc...). For them, the information society is a metaphor that points toward resolution by providing large infrastructural projects, a rationale for further liberalization and privatization of the European economy, and a hope that Western industries will maintain their competitive advantage.

On the alternative side, various progressive organizations, including union representatives, focused on technology issues such as increased unemployment through privitization of the telecom sector and the loss of privacy through monitoring. The official side did not discuss these issues.

Those fearing technology and increased computerization share the characteristics of not being real participants in the evolution they describe. They describe technology as a juggernaut overtaking them, imposing an unwanted evolution, without realizing that this same technology can undermine hierarchical institutions on a grand scale. At the same time, the establishment forces understandably think about their own interests first, the progressives often seem to fight a rearguard action against technological evolution. In addition, they have an added disadvantage of not offering a hopeful vision of the future or the ability to mobilize the energies of the people they claim to represent. Significantly, only a few of these militants had Internet access and none seem to understand the extraordinary potential of the Internet as a tool for self-organizing on a global scale. Meanwhile, on the grand scale, the political and industrial establishments who embrace the idea of the information age have a --tenuous alliance that could errupt once the Third Wave (Information Age) overtakes the vestiges of the Second Wave (Industrial Revolution).

Neither the digital utopianism of the establishment forces who project their Techno-Utopia in the future, nor the neo-Luddism of those who project their utopia in a mythical past golden age can offer a satisfactory point of view towards the promise and perils of the Age of Cyberspace which will have indigenous movements of its own.

Instead, what we do need is a democratic technology movement, which both accepts the inevitability and benefits of technological development, yet strives for universal access to these benefits. Today, only technology can save us from technology. [TOC]

Michel Bauwens ( was information manager for a multinational company (BP Nutrition), where he pioneered one of the first working virtual information centers, for which he was elected European Information Professional of the Year (1993). In 1994, he founded Wave, Europe's first digital convergence monthly and today, he founded his own company, specializing in the virtualization processes for businesses, organizations, and information centers.

Copyright © 1996 by Michel Bauwens. All Rights Reserved.

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