Information Age: Changes

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Information Age Changes: Information is power, and it's in the hands of the unwashed masses!

In the past, the media, the press, or whatever you choose to call them, had a lot of power over people. They controlled the information, and that alters people's perspectives and their entire lives. People fail to realize how significant this power is. Now it is being wrested from their control and put in the hands of the common man. Will anarchy result?

The past

Information has been traditionally distributed from the top down, from what is sometimes called "the media elite". Originally it was the Papers (newspapers and magazines), later it was Radio, then later still, Television. The problem was that each successive format REDUCED the amount of information dispensed.

Now I realize that video has more total information in the technical sense; but in the real sense, for getting explanation, background information, or doing research, the content is all but lost. Television News tends to be a lot thinner and less informative than mediums before them. The real, useful information is often just ignored or eliminated, because it doesn't "fit the format," and often the story is more about hype than the actual facts. A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but often they only replace the least important words.

The respective audiences seem to affect the formats. Intellectuals read articles, and those that read are willing to take more time learning, so the information is often more detailed and talks about many aspects of an issue. Radio is "quicker" but lazier. When this format came around we started being the same way; just chat about some of the issues, and get on with it; a quick story and on to the next. At least now there are hour-long shows dealing with issues on talk-radio (broken up by lots of ads). Television is the worst. Many of the largest "spots" are 20 minutes long and targeted towards the audience with shortest attention spans. The information is so incomplete, and edited, as to be almost worthless. Good for entertainment, lousy for understanding. Have you tried to learn anything from 20/20, Dateline, 60 minutes or the 11:00 News?

Changes in the paradigm

As we went through each change in information distribution, there was an adoption period. The new medium was seen as a better version of the old, and then slowly the new medium was seen for its own unique benefits, and the paradigm shifted.

At first, Radio was just the printed page read aloud; book readings with narrators and newspapers with spoken news. Then radio evolved. People started stretching the paradigm and we got; plays, vaudeville, and more acting. Then we got adventures, concerts, prerecorded music, interviews and then talk radio (as a way to get the listener involved). We stretched the paradigm and ended up with something that was quite different than "just the printed page, spoken on the air". We grew.

Television repeated the process. At first it was little different than the News Papers or Radio -- we got spoken dialog, and some plays; then we added movies, talk-shows, teaching shows, nature shows (which would be very boring radio), porno (erotica), MTV and infomercials. We stretched the boundaries and changed.

Each change did not obsolete the prior system; TV did not eliminate Radio, Radio did not eliminate newspapers or books. Each new systems brought society new information and forced us to evolve in new directions. It changed societies paradigm.


Each new information delivery system changes society. Gutenberg and the printing press crushed the monopoly on information that existed before (held by the church and the rich). The common man was able to get books, and papers, and to actually learn to read and write and think for themselves. The printing press created freedom of information and may have been the breakthrough that enabled the American Revolution and empowered the "common man". The phone enabled us to communicate with each other immediately -- and created (or at least popularized) a new greeting, "Hello." Radio and TV created the "need" to race home to watch a favorite show, which helped make our society much more time conscious and "urgent". We even got new social events like SuperBowl parties and group movies. Radio and TV let people feel more involved in an event; the medium is so good that people feel like they are actually "there". Some have said that Televisions (and the VCR) was the reason for the break-up of the Soviet Union. Once the Soviet people got information sent to them (via video tapes) about how things really were in the rest of the world, PRAVDA and the state could no longer sell their propaganda. The lies couldn't compete against the compelling images that the people saw, so the people demanded change. New information technologies alter society.


There are costs for these "paradigm" shifts. With Radio and TV less imagination is required, and there is less interaction - it helped break people away from their communities, and allowed for "shut-ins" and couch potatoes. It encouraged the breakdown in communication inside of families. People read less, and write less, and got used to accepting information that was fed to them. People "saw" information with their own eyes, or heard it, so they just accepted it blindly (almost without question) -- forgetting that images can be as biased as words (2). The telephone changed the necessity of travel and human interaction (other than voice). These technologies even enabled new crimes, like; extortion (with video or audio tape evidence), crank calls, invasion of privacy, taping someone without them knowing, and so on. So new information technologies have new "hidden" costs.

(2) Dateline (TV-News Show) did something that demonstrated the problem; they showed truck "exploding" when hit from the side, as a dramatic example of how unsafe some truck gas-tanks are. Later it was proven that a model rocket had been used to ignite the explosion - to sensationalize the image. Statistics have been popularized since radio and TV -- people are willing to "accept" blindly without thinking -- at least partly because they are used to "believing" what comes out of the idiot box(es).

The Present

What did not change before the information age was who controlled the information. In the past we could listen or watch, and GET the information "they" wanted to send us, but we were not the distributors of it! "They" filtered what we told them, and filtered what we saw. To this day we still have a few powerful people (companies) controlling the TV, Radio, and Newspaper -- dictating to us what we see, hear and read. Then the Information age hit!

More Information

Some of the "information age" is just more information. More books, cable stations with lots of channels, lots more radio stations, CD's with lots of music, CD-ROM's with lots of information. Satellites and receivers let us know where we are, and more. Now there are enough channels that they can specialize and we have far more choices. You can learn how to improve your house, or better yet, watch others do it from the comfort of your lounge chair. You can watch any sports, Women TV, Guy TV, History, News, soft porn, whatever you want is at your fingertips. People get this part.

However, these are just more choices from the information that is being handed down. The most radical change in the information age is still that WE can control the distribution of information.

Control of the information

Think of all the power that computers have given us in improving the current paradigms.

People now have video cameras, and video editing systems (computers), and the ability to transmit (via the web) from their homes. Not just a TV in every home, but a TV station in Every home! Now think about the ramifications to our society. Imagine that there is a war going on, and people can broadcast the atrocities? Remember Tienamen square? The TV Reporters were driven out first because, if you couldn't see it, then it wasn't as bad (and it was deniable). Now there are cheap video cameras, and anyone is able to send video to THE WORLD! No more deniability; the world is watching you! That is our future. Like it or not. Look at Rodney King, the World Trade Center, and various wars. Or on the lower levels, you can video conference or go to a porn peep show from the privacy of your own home. "You are there" is not just a tagline.

We've advanced from days to send messages to seconds. FAX, Telephones, Cell Phones, email, and so on. And if you want to broadcast you can ass well. Web Radio stations, spam, websites, and so on. Everyone with a computer a little motivation can create broadcast solutions. If you want to run your own newspaper, it is not a problem. Most homes have printers, and can have laser printers, scanners, copiers, digital cameras, and so on.Almost any individual who want to, can create his own newspaper, newsletter, or book. Home publishing is common. Small niche newsletters are everywhere. People are even making family newsletters to keep informed of events in each others lives!

Because the costs of paper distribution were too expensive, we're eliminating them. A written and "mailed" newsletter is using the new technology with an older (outdated) paradigm. Mailing is no longer necessary; now you just publish your webpage or eMail you eZine! Color pictures are expensive to print and distribute? Not in the new age. Not only is it cheaper, but it is free on a web page or email, and you let the recipient print it out. INSTANT access, anywhere in the world, lower costs.

Another change is the time availability; "on demand" is the new paradigm. You put the stuff on a server and those interested can get it any time. Some stuff will be live others can be prerecorded. No hauling your butt out of that lazy-chair to rent a video; on-line will be the ticket to immediate gratification (either through cable, computer or satellite dish), and I mean immediate. With devices like TiVo (PVR's) you can time shift TV shows to meet your needs whenever you want them. Total time flexibility.

The amount of information and the speed of access is just astronomical. In the old paradigm, you had to distribute your information. The new paradigm is about cutting out the middleman and letting the people with interest find you, instantly. Immediate publication or access!

The Future

The biggest changes are not what has happened, but what is going to happen.


One huge change is the interactivity and combinations of information. This is the part that is understood the least and the biggest change to the paradigm. Information is not just required to be in just one medium, it can be all of them, and new ones! You can even allow the viewer to interact and control. There are already video cameras at some events that you can control through the Internet to pan and zoom around to see what is going on somewhere, LIVE, from your own home. Imagine VR mock-ups of that you can fly through to see what is going on somewhere and you are in control. You can hear what you want, see what you want, and read about what you want! If you don't understand something, just link or search on that topic and educate yourself as never before.

There will always be the old idiot box, where you just watch what others want, but there will also be the new idiot box that you control. You'll watch a show, and explore information, browse what catches your interest. I often sit on my couch, watching TV, while browsing the Internet on my wireless network with my laptop. Interesting topic pops up or word I don't know, I can pop it up. I was interested in the war in Iraq and the rest of the world's views, so I started reading automatic translations of foreign newspapers, and see what they really thought about us. I'm doing it manually, but imagine when this gets fused together by pros.

The possibilities are not over-hyped --they are not fully understood. This information is going to mean much more than people realize. The biggest slow downs in acceptance will not be the infrastructure (though that will take a while), it will be humanities ability to adapt. It took nearly a generation for Radio producers to realize that Radio was more than just narrated print, they created their own paradigms over time, and so will we.


Cutting out the middleman not only applies to information, but with the new access to information, it applies to commerce as well. Lets face it, if you can get all the information you need from the manufacturers (or magazines and web pages), then what do you need the biased salespeople for? What value does a distributor have for you, if he just delays you getting your product and adds in a markup? Those middle tier distributors and sales people had better learn to add value to their services VERY quickly, or they are going to become endangered species. Fortunately humans are smart and adaptive, and so I don't expect the elimination of those jobs in the near future (just less growth).

For many products and services the system will flatten out. Mail-order houses and direct sales are coming; big time. I wrote this article many years ago and said "it is coming". Now it is here, but still, we've only seen the tip of the iceberg. That means that the cost of goods will be reduced and the shipping business is going to get bigger.


This is something that is very important. Before the information age, it was very hard to offer "vertical" products; products with very small capture, compared to the general population. Horizontal products have wide coverage, but often get low capture rates; vertical products have narrow coverage, but hopefully get deeper penetration in their smaller market. How many people need or sell beauty products for transvestites (other than Mary Kay)? There just aren't enough transvestites in a given area to make it viable. Even in San Francisco or New Orleans. And where do you advertise? With newer distribution systems, and information systems, you have the entire world as your market. If you open that "transvestite beauty store" in Wichita, Kansas, you don't have to base your business on 25 local customers, you can sell to all the cross-dressers in the U.S., all English speaking countries, or even the world. This is a big benefit for cross-dressers who were having a tough time buying pancake makeup and size 13 pumps. And don't forget we are all individuals! We each have something about us, or our interests, that make us "socially unique," or a good "vertical market opportunity."

These vertical markets are great for enabling new businesses, especially small ones. Hand made items, custom art, made-to-order, all these items will see a resurgence because they can be distributed easier, found easier, and draw on larger markets. Even robotics, which are a product of the information age and computers, will help mass-manufacturing become much more specialized - as we are seeing with Jeans and shoes now made-to-fit based on your personal dimensions.


I've been talking about the upsides; the expansion in choices and information we have gotten because of this. But we also need to think of the costs.

There are now newsletters for just about anything; good and bad. Pedophiles and the Klu Klux Klan can create Newsletters as easily as sports clubs, support groups, or any other common interests that might bind us. You have the freedom! So does your neighbor!

Enabling people enables ALL people. Criminals can send your sprint code (or your Visa number) across the world. Instantly. Idiots can spam you with bulk eMail and ads. People can flood your web server (syn-flood attacks) and prevent you from doing business. Security holes will allow your private information to be available to those you wouldn't want to have it. If the information is out there, people will be able to get it; and it is out there. Get over your anachronistic views on privacy. Our only hope is in anonymity of numbers; that there are so many people, that you are irrelevant and so won't be watched or bothered. The easiest ways to get your information are still traditional ways; dumpster diving in your trash (or a stores trash), or watching you use a credit card and memorizing the number, stealing your devices (phones, PDA's, address books, etc). But privacy has already become an anachronistic concept. With the information explosion it will become completely extinct.

There is also the issue of responsibility. Most people are not responsible. Many people are flamingly ignorant. Now those people will have the power of the megaphone! For every good and rational idea spewed out on the internet, there will be 10 idiots with bull-horns, spewing their own special type of ignorance.

Information will come from the bottom (the source) - but the media and information "elite" do a service for us; they filter. Without those filters, the noise goes up; both good and bad. The media didn't always filter the right stuff; but sometimes they did remove the wheat from the chaff; now that's your job. Every kook with an opinion will have tons of supporting information (or misinformation). The internet and the information age yanks the filter away. We get a freer, unrestricted flow. We can now find the source of information or talk to people who know things (instead of talking through the media, who usually does not). We also have 100 people who don't know, posing as those who do. We are all going to have to learn to be skeptical and far more critical thinkers; those that don't will get burned (or already have). This happened in the past in our society with things like people learning to be more skeptical on ads or snake oil salesmen, but we're going to learn it more.

Watch the changes, see the sites, collect information, learn like never before, and enjoy the show.

Written 1997.07.23