Ethan McCarty

Digital strategy | Social business | People-centric biznology

The future of biznology (circa 1982)

My friend (the great creative mind, adoring father, Frisbee ultimatum-maker and total mensch,) Eli Neugeboren sent me a link to an article from 1982 in the New York Times entitled “STUDY SAYS TECHNOLOGY COULD TRANSFORM SOCIETY” on the occasion of my recent Social Media Today interview about IBM’s social business and digital strategy efforts.  In the 1982 article (written when I was in, I think, third grade) the author cites an NSF study that asserts:

“…that one-way and two-way home information systems, called teletext and videotex, will penetrate deeply into daily life, with an effect on society as profound as those of the automobile and commercial television earlier in this century.”

Yeah, you got that right!  The article also correctly predicts the privacy issues that would emerge as well as the emergent norm of working from home and e-commerce among other things.

The part that is a little creepy — is that the right word? maybe just ‘prescient’ — is the short section on ‘Opportunities for abuse’ that asserts that adoption of ‘videotex’ systems (aka the internet) will be predicated on the willingness of advertisers to embrace the systems thus laying the groundwork for an inherent ethical conflict in the system.

“‘ ‘Videotex systems create opportunities for individuals to exercise much greater choice over the information available to them,”the researchers wrote. ‘Individuals may be able to use videotex systems to create their own newspapers, design their own curricula, compile their own consumer guides. On the other hand, because of the complexity and sophistication of these systems, they create new dangers of manipulation or social engineering, either for political or economic gain. Similarly, at the same time that these systems will bring a greatly increased flow of information and services into the home, they will also carry a stream of information out of the home about the preferences and behavior of its occupants.’ ”

So yeah, it turns out that advertisers were willing adopters of videotex — here I am working from home, sharing data about myself and (as it happens) my job is to take advantage of the “complexity and sophistication of these systems…for economic gain.”

Hmmm. Beats driving to a factory every day to manufacture widgets. (So far.)

But still…makes me wonder if the whole notion that “information wants to be free” was a bill of goods.  The internet is, as predicted, transformational in how it allows broad swaths of society access to more information and decision-making power.  But it’s hard to say if we are sophisticated enough (as individual netizens) to contend with the organizations aligned to sway us and impose their will for their own gain (economic, political, etc).

The question is: do individuals stand a chance to preserve their individuality (and by extension, the responsibility for their own actions) in a world populated with such sophisticated actors aligned to persuade them to do otherwise?

One response to “The future of biznology (circa 1982)

  1. enoogs July 19, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Well said. I like your point about “information wants to be free” which seems naïve, and similar to the ubiquitous, “it used to be about the music, bro!” type of statement. Distribution of anything in this world has always been dependent on resources, whether it be wheat, cars, or information. Companies with more resources are better at controlling and distributing content, and even though adbusters would loathe to admit it, it is because of the collaboration inherent in capitalistic production that allows this to happen, and allows bigger to be better (most of the time).

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