The Information Revolution
by Paul Hazelden


Introduction

This is an extract from a letter sent to the editor of 'Computing'.

Letter

28 February 1994

Dear Sir,

I am supporting you in this because I very much want to throw what little weight I have behind your various attempts to get those of us who work with computers to lift our eyes from the computer screens and see something of the big world out there.   A world which, whether we like it or not, we are a part of and are currently shaping by our combined efforts.

It is widely believed that our society is now entering a new age: the 'Information Revolution' parallels the 'Industrial Revolution', and is expected to change our lives and the nature of the world around us in as radical a fashion as the Industrial Revolution did.   What frightens me is the way we acknowledge this as a fact and then do nothing about it.

Technology shapes our society far more effectively than the Government does.   The motor car, the telephone and television have changed our lives far more than any law or Ministerial scandal.   But while it took half a century or more to establish a car industry, it takes less than half a decade to establish a new sector in the software industry.   It takes years to make a brilliant new design of car available to the public, while a brilliant piece of software can be made available to millions of people the day after it is finished.

Much of our society relies on stability: almost all the checks and balances we have in place assume a traditional pace of life.   The Stock Exchange and the currency markets developed in a world where information was almost all work of mouth, and news of a revolution could take months to arrive.   They were not designed to cater for a world of instant access to an overwhelming quantity of information.   We now have far more of it than any person can take in, let alone respond to.   Computers and telecommunications are altering the rules of almost all the games society has played for centuries.   Who is looking at this and daring to think about the potential consequences?

Your leader articles, and a few of your contributors, indicate that you are concerned about society and the world we live in.   The beliefs people have about God and religion, their hopes and fears, their likes and dislikes: these are important aspects of the world.   To ignore then when we write, design or build computer systems seems to me an attempt to ignore a fundamental moral responsibility.   Thank you for continuing to remind us about such issues.   Keep it up!

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