The future is something that we all ought to concerned about because it is the time in which we will all be living….or we will be dead. But in any event, it is the time in which people we love and care about will be living. Our children; our children’s children. Their children. And so on. Should we care about the quality of the lives of our relatives, our friends, and of our communities that we leave behind? And if the answer is yes, is there an appropriate role for government? Or instead, should we merely allow the marketplace to exclusively determine who gets what, when, and under what circumstances? A short-term agend, based on what Sun Microsystems CEO, Scott McNealy, calls “fierce Darwinism?” has been offered as our best way to the best future of our nation. “Fierce Darwinism” appears to be the dominant public policy in a number of areas of public life, including information and communication policy. It is a term, however, that implies survival of the fittest, let dog-eat-dog, “I’ve got mine, now you get yours,” laissez faire hands-off public policy, of the type that Thomas Jefferson defined simply as, “That government is best which governs least.”
So what is the right or most correct means of arriving at the kind of future we think we all want? What kind of society do we want to create at the end of the information highway? Should we even care? Whatever the answer, is there an appropriate role for electronic artists in making information and communications policy? These are not rhetorical questions. We do have meaningful choices to make that can make a difference in outcomes down the road.We can still influence public policy, which inherently looks to the future with the specific intent to influence the means and the direction of where we go as a society. In the final analysis, all public policy is what government does or does not do. It is unofficial as well as official acts of commission and omissions. It is generally what is done on behalf of the public at large by people who are charged to represent the overall interests and needs of the general public. In the case of communication policy, the public is defined in the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, as “All the people of the United States.” All the people, not just some of the people. In other words, the federal government is accountable to citizens and residents of this nation to ensure affordable access to a nation-wide and worldwide communications network service via radio and wire. What exactly comprises such service is crucial to determining, in the case of information and communication policy, the quality of the democracy we have, who gets access to what information and under what terms and conditions, who gets to speak to whom, who owns and controls the channels of information, who owns and controls information, who has power and who doesn’t. In the 21st century, will all the people of the United States have access to the dominate means of electronic communication? Will the common people be able to communicate, to speak, and publish—not just freely, but also effectively? Or will huge multinational corporations dominate all the effective channels of speech and publication? Can there be a public sphere when information is no longer regarded as a public good but primarily as a commodity? Is there room for public channels, public broadcasting, and public information in an economy where mass media and information systems and networks have all been privatized? Can the First Amendment guarantee free speech and free press where undue concentration of ownership and control of the public agenda eliminates dissent through legal private censorship of press owners? Will there continue to be a marketplace of ideas in the digital age, or merely just a market for information and information products that are sold as commodities? Do we need new privacy laws to protect the integrity and dignity of individuals? Are existing copyright laws adequate to prevent misappropriation and the wrongful taking of artists’ digital intellectual work products? Unlike Michael Dertouzox, head of MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science, I cannot, with a straight face, Tell You What Will Be, I don’t know exactly how the new world of information will change our lives. And, I don’t think that any expert can or ought to tell us. Instead, I think that in a democracy, a participatory democracy, that is, citizens as well as consumers should decide what will be.
At this particular time in history, we are at the crest of a new age. A revolution of sorts. But a peculiar type of revolution often termed the”Information Revolution” or the “Digital Revolution.” Before I go into some of the characteristics of this phenomena, I wish briefly to discuss why I believe this revolution is peculiar. Unlike most revolutions, the instant one is not occurring at an explosive pace. It is more of an evolution that a revolution.While the pace of change is accelerating, the introduction of electronic infor-mation and communication technology has been ongoing, in earnest, for at least two decades, since the development of personal computers, facsimile machines, VCRs, remote control devices, desk-top-publishing and video, and, of course, the Internet and World Wide Web (WWW). The electronic communications age has its origins going back in history a hundred years with the advent of radio, telegraph, and telephony. Newer, better, more powerful, smaller and cheaper information technology has been introduced and has peculated into society at a quickening rate since the beginning of the 20th century and, indeed, continues, at a more rapid pace than ever. So, if the Communication Revolution or Digital Revolution is indeed a revolution, it is an evolving revolution in terms of its pace unless we ignore what preceded the advent of microprocessors (which evolved from the study of transistors). One might argue, even, that both the digital and information revolution began in the mid-15th century when Gutenberg invented the printing press with movable digits of metal type. Gutenberg’s single invention, led to revolutionary changes in society by very rapidly spreading literacy, free-thinking, and true revolutionary behavior that directly challenged the authority of the church and the state, leading to the age of Enlightenment, the codification of laws and science, the verification of history, etc.The printing press caused the old order to turn over and led to greater forms democracy in the governance of people because people demanded better treatment from the powerful forces of society when they were armed with relevant information concerning their true condition. It is simply human nature for people to act in their own perceived self interest when they have adequate information to act upon. But with all the new digital and analog channels of information available, are the people adequately armed today with relevant information concerning the information revolution, the knowledge economy, what will be, or the range of choices before them? In other words, is the digital revolution as effective as was the revolution of the printing press in promoting democracy, literacy or a better society? The fact that the old order is not being overturned as might be the expected outcome of a classic revolution, also makes this revolution suspect. Instead of a churn, the old order appears more intrenched and even more powerful because of its greater ability to purchase and exploit new and emerging communication and information technology for automation, social control, marketing, and globalization. This presentation will attempt to explain some of the significant trends and tenancies of the information age and to give a range of policy options that promote a greater public good. And, I hope to suggest some of the stories that electronic artists ought to be telling the people — in all formats electronic.
- Nolan Bowie, USA, is an Associate Professor at Temple University, School of Communications and Theatre, Department of Broadcasting, Telecommunications, and Mass Media. For the 1995-96 academic year he served as Visiting Senior Fellow at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, and as Visiting Lecturer in Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Gouvernment, Harvard University. Professor Bowie is a widely respected communications attorney, and was formerly a staff attorney and Executive Director of Citizens Communications Center, a Washington D.C. public interest law firm and education facility. Professor Bowie also served as an Assistant Special Prosecutor with the Watergate Special Prosecution Force. He received his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1973, and has completed one year of study at MIT, where he was working towards a Ph.D. prior to joining Temple faculty in 1986. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of Independent Television Service (ITVS), Deep Dish Television Network, Inc., The Cultural Environment Movement, Inc., Strategies for Media Literacy. and is a Trustee of the Institute for Public Representation, Georgetown University Law Center, as well as an advisor to The Center for Media Education. Nolan was also a founding board member of Independence Public Media of Philadelphia, Inc., and a member of the U.S. Delegation to the World Administrative Radio Conference.