Different Medium: Different Society
The invention of the printing press ushered in the true supremacy of texts. Now that it was possible to make multiple copies of a work, quickly and cheaply, the book became the major tool of the scholar. The book individualized society by allowing people to access vast stores of information without need of human contact.
In recent times, the telephone has allowed people to communicate quickly and over vast distances, speeding up the rate of all societal interactions. Radio, TV, film, and advances in publishing have created a culture that is less satisfied with straight written texts. These technologies have changed the way people view the acquisition of information. Visual and oral learning have taken on revitalized importance. According to research cited in Communications Graphics, "studies indicate that people generally remember:
The question becomes, how is computer communication a different medium? Hiltz and Turoff in The Network Nation point out that such communication
Unlike television, with it's limited number of broadcasters, there is no limit to the amount of information that can be made available on the web. The web is really closest to a vast library of information that is interlinked and easily searchable. When a colleague or I want to look for information about anything, a company, a musical band, an event, the first place we look is the web. It's convenient, fast, and there is already a vast amount of content that is available. Keep in mind that all of that content has been for the most part been put up in three years. The next decade will see exponential increases in both the speed of information transfer and the amount and type of information that is transferrable. Videophones and movies-on-demand will become a reality. This will change the way the entire world interacts with information.
Interact is a key word, as well, because unlike television and radio, where people are passive receivers of information, the web is highly interactive. This will increase learning, and allow people to get the kind of information they really want and need, rather than being subjected to mass medium that cater to the lowest common denominator.
Electronic information is very easy to copy, which will lead to a major restructuring and possible destruction of copyright law. The hacker's credo has long been "Information wants to be free," and this edict seems to hold true. As the rate of information dissemination rises, I believe that we'll see an increase in the role of the editor. Money will be made by people able to sort through the vast amounts of information and distill the best parts of it. This information will not be valuable for long, though, as new information enters and moves throughout the system and makes the old editing obsolete.
So, how will the World Wide Web change society? It will cause the rate and types of information that members of the society shuffles around to increase. It will allow people to communicate with each other more quickly and easily. It will change the role of information from individual to connected, and from objective to subjective. It will challenge the notions of originality, ownership, and copyright. Society will truly take on many aspects of postmodern thought. Society will decentralize, just as the network is decentralized, and culture will move back towards notions of the oral and tribal. Subjects will become connected and will no longer allow encapsulation. Information will become evolutionary, like language, and texts will never be complete...