Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Information Technology, People, and a Changing World

Seeing the same opinion I've been expressing in a major newspaper is a nice experience. A tad uncommon, but still nice.

This particular opinion involves technology. Specifically, information technology.

Basically, I don't think that technology makes people do things. That's part of why I don't have a problem with folks owning and using dangerous technology: like LP gas, printing presses, computers, and guns. (June 27, 2008)

Printing presses and computers are in that list because it's my opinion that they're part of two major changes that happened recently. Well, fairly recently.

Gutenberg, Twitter, and People being People

About five and a half centuries back now, Johannes Gutenberg worked the bugs out of movable type technology. Up to that time, books - any recorded visual data - were hand-made by specialized workers: and very expensive. (A Catholic Citizen in America (January 27, 2009))

Before Gutenberg's infotech hit Europe and the world, ideas took time to circulate. Quite a lot of time, generally. After, not so much. Arguably, the Reformation happened because somebody got hold of a 95-point discussion list, and mass-produced it. I don't think a printing press made Luther write his theses, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have been distributed so widely if that technology hadn't been available.

Today we've got the Internet, social network services: and a rapidly-evolving set of online communities.

Communities aren't anything new. It's what happens when more that one human being is in an area. We like communicating with each other: it's part of who we are and what we do.

What technologies like writing, printing presses, telephones, and the Internet have in common is that they make communicating with other people a little easier. Or, in the case of people who aren't in the same place at the same time: possible.

Hello Online Communities: Goodbye Status Quo

I've discussed old-school information gatekeepers before. They're the folks who, until very recently, were able to control what the rest of us saw and read.

It's just the way things worked: in America, for example, most information that we call 'news' got filtered through a few editors on the east coast. Most of the rest was reviewed by media executives, teachers, librarians, and the folks who run the publishing industry.

That was then, this is now. Understandably, quite a few of the old-school information gatekeepers are upset about 'the masses' being able to exchange ideas without their permission.

Here in America, I think we're making the transition to the Information Age fairly well: in large part thanks to many folks in this culture already being used to the idea that it's okay to discuss - and even criticize - their 'betters.'

Other parts of the world don't seem to be having an easy time of it.

Which is where today's news and views come in, including these excerpts:
"Part of Interior Ministry compound torched in Cairo"
Ivan Watson and Amir Ahmed, CNN (February 23, 2011)

"An Interior Ministry compound in Egypt was burning Wednesday as smoke billowed into the sky over Cairo.

"Witnesses said the fire was started by protesters upset about labor issues and the blaze could have been ignited by Molotov cocktails.

"Part of a building, and surrounding buildings such as the criminal records building, had been torched as well as several cars....

"...The incident comes as Egyptians continue to work to create the new leadership structure of the country after the revolution.

"State-run media reported Wednesday that there have been about 1,300 official complaints against former Egyptian ministers and government officials.

Interior Minister Mahmoud Wagdi said he ordered that all the complaints, many of them about government waste and corruption, be investigated, state-run EgyNews website reported.

"The investigation into the complaints comes after authorities in Egypt froze the assets of former President Hosni Mubarak and his family, state-run media has reported...."

"These are not just Facebook revolutions"
Jeffrey Ghannam , The Sydney Morning Herald (February 23, 2011)

"Social media enabled Mid-East protesters - it did not motivate them.

"For decades, armed soldiers have guarded the Egyptian Radio and Television Union building in downtown Cairo, apparently to protect the country's formidable broadcast assets from being commandeered in an attempted revolution.

"But Hosni Mubarak's departure from power earlier this month after three decades of rule showed that the power of social media sites and mobile phone technology proved a far bigger threat to the former Egyptian president.

"With protests spreading from Tunisia and Egypt to Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and Libya, the catchy notion of a 'Twitter Revolution' or a 'Facebook Revolution' is being debated - and tweeted, of course...."

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.