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The first report of the Information Society Forum has now been published on the ISPO server. The following are comments about certain aspects of that report.

Setting an example...?
Notes on the first IS Forum annual report

Wide-scale involvement in discussions

One of the major merits of the IS FORUM First Annual Report is that it puts considerable emphasis on the importance of wide-scale involvement of the population in the development of the Information Society. This is, however, not so easy to do, especially as persistent use of current methods work against such an involvement. The FORUM itself falls into the same trap. Instead of using the tools of the Information Society to involve a much wider audience in its discussions, the FORUM follows the traditional "expert group" paradigm in which a group come together, discuss as subject for a period of time, raise their awareness and understanding of the subject during this time and then publish their findings. In so doing they have enlarged the gap between themselves and everybody else. Involving large sections of the population in the discussion requires a different approach. The use of "expert" or "representative" groups such as the IS FORUM must go hand-in-hand with wide-sale on-going distribution of work-in-progress and the possibility for the general public to react within a clearly defined framework.

A larger context

As stimulating as the report is, it pays no attention to the current attitude of commercial interests that are fighting a merciless battle between themselves and are heedless of common interests of society at large. This attitude of the FORUM reinforces the impression that deliberations have been cut-off, to a certain extent, from reality.

Sustainability and local communities

In the quest for sustainability, there is a move towards less physical mobility. This tacitly implies a growing importance given to local communities. The report however pays little or no attention to this issue. What additional action needs to be undertaken to guarantee that local (rural) communities are strengthened by tele-activites rather than becoming the victims of poverty, isolation and absence of stimulation?

All embracing technology?

The report talks about moving "rapidly and completely into the Information Society". One of the major misunderstandings of the Information Society is to imagine that it will be all-embracing. The idea of "completeness" is clearly not only unrealistic but also undesirable. In designing future content and activities of networks there is a tendency to simply transfer current activities to new media. The tools of the Information Society should not be seen as replacing current human exchange, but as an additional, different means of exchange. That the report tacitly subscribes to the all embracing idea of the Information Society is also to be seen when it say "... very large sections of our societies who either cannot or will not exploit the new technologies because we have failed to respond to their needs." This assumes that the Information Society is capable of responding to all needs which it clearly will not be.

The global versus the local?

Talking about the need to set up a satisfactory legal framework, the Report mentions the need to "protect freedom of expression, defend cultural rights and reflect community values..." Although this is no doubt necessary, there would seem to be a fundamental opposition between global freedom of speech and local community values. This is one of the major regulatory and societal issues of the Information Society.

The glories of teleworking

The Report states: "Teleworking offers many job-creating possibilities and improvements in working lifestyles." While this is no doubt correct, the social and psychological difficulties of telework and the associated insecurity (most teleworkers will not be employed but "independent" ...) go unmentioned in the report. Teleworking may get commuters off the roads but hopefully not into mental hospitals or divorce courts :-)

Learning paradigms

The Report says: "We are hopeful that teaching, combined with the large steps software producers are making towards much more user friendly appliances, will enable people to operate the new technologies..." Extending the current "schooling" learning paradigm to life-long learning is likely to be counterproductive. Currently learning is based on "packages" in the rarefied atmosphere of the "classroom", albeit virtual, with the help of an expert. This pre-packed logic just doesn't apply in circumstances when what is to be learnt is process-based. Knowledge is no longer graved in stone, it is fluid, context-based and constantly changing. Mass produced, "commodity-type learning" is inefficient in these circumstances.
Talking about open access, the report goes on to say: "... individual's rights to access to many kinds of information are at best obscure..." As long as people are brought up in the "schooling" paradigm of rarefied, expert-given knowledge, most people will find it difficult to take the initiative to seek out information they need...
If the investment required to modify the "schooling" paradigm is too costly and time-consuming, why not consider by-passing current educational institutions in the quest for suitable structures to incite and assist the learning necessary for the Information Society?

Other points

The Report talks of "extending the public service mission of public service broadcasters to electronic information services..." This may not be a good idea as the logic of mass-media broadcasting is NOT comparable with that of distributed networking...

The Report takes up the idea of a European Citizens' card, saying "This could be an identity card which is also eventually capable of payment functions and carrying medical information..." Experience in Denmark with the introduction of a Citizen's smart-card has shown that there can be enormous opposition on the part of the public to such a card.

In a drive to accelerate the entry in the Information Society, the Report suggests promoting "electronic tendering by fixing a percentage of all procurements which must be handled electronically." Such a percentage could be a desirable goal, but fixing quotas as a form of regulation is a very unsatisfactory and inefficient way of working.

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ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey, info@connected.org
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Created: July 12th, 1996 - Last up-dated: July 12th, 1996