Throughout history, societies have always struggled to incorporate major technological innovations without losing the "essence" of their culture. The major shifts from hunter and gather to agricultural societies and from agricultural to industrial societies were not easy on the cultures that were affected. Yet, these cultures did adapt (perhaps not for the better).
The technological innovations mentioned above changed the way people worked, lived, interacted with each other, and thought. Today, we are experiencing another technological revolution that is changing the way society is shaped. The Internet and the "Information Revolution" is changing the way people communicate, meet and interact with each other, shop, study, and think. Modern nations are facing a cultural crisis. How can they adjust to the blitzkrieg of changes brought about by the Internet without losing their societal "soul"?
Although it can be argued that the previous revolutions (agricultural and industrial) were negative, most people would agree that these changes were needed and that the benefits outweighed the negatives. The same will probably be said about the revolution we are currently experiencing. However, did all of the hunter and gathers enjoy farming all day long? Did the 19th-Century farmers and craftsmen enjoy working in a dirty factory "sweat-shop" all day long? Will the workers of today and tomorrow enjoy staring at a computer monitor all day long?
The two previous cultural changes were needed to produce more food and goods to support the increasing population. Today, however, the members of the next revolution have little problem feeding their growing masses (in fact many First World Nations have negative population growth rates), and I do not think that the Internet will greatly help starving children in Asia and Africa. So why are we working longer hours and spending more and more time staring at a computer screen?
But the Internet is fun! It´s cool. You can say anything, be anybody, read about Hašek´s latest shutout with the Sabers, see the results of the Miss Internet Contest, buy flowers for your new found Internet Sweetheart, blah, blah, blah, . . . .
But what about all the Spam, pornography, rip-offs, con artists, Internet frauds, misinformation, et al? What about all the time lost waiting for sites to download, and the frustration of searching for a tiny island of information in the vast WWW ocean?
There are valid benefits to be gained from our current societal coup. Yet, our societies MUST find ways to decrease the negatives, before these benefits will be worthwhile. Freedom of speech (including the right to print misinformation, pornography, etc.) and the lighting quick (in theory) dissemination of knowledge and thought are great Internet boons, just as more plentiful crops and cheaper products were the boons of the previous revolutions. However, with each previous revolution, there was an accompanying loss of free-time, and there was also the question of who truly benefited from the changes--everybody or just the people in charge (political and business leaders).
Our societies are at a turning point. We should not look to the future with blind optimistic eyes, but with caution, reason, and far-seeing eyes. Dystopianists can easily create images of cyberworkers who toil in futuristic (near future) information "sweat shops" hunting for information, hacking into systems, building Spam spewing programs for 10, 12, or more hours a day. This does not have to happen. Just as the terrible changes that occurred with the previous revolutions could have been avoided, we can actively shape our future to into a brighter one.
Our lives will be changed dramatically in the next millennium; this cannot be denied. However, we need to plan now to make those changes positive. If we let "Nature" run it´s course, the politicians and big businesses will plan the future for us. I for one am not ready to let the Gates´s, Klauses, and Ginriches of the world force me into a lowered standard of living, so that they can have more information, money and power.