5.34: Electronic Technology is Fluid

Like most powerful technologies, the new electronic technologies can be instruments of oppression or instruments of liberation. In their current volatile state, they consist mainly of vague threats and rosy promises. The potential can go either way. Intelligent intervention at this point can ensure that the good rather than the evil potential is realized.

Most discussion of electronic technology and developing countries is couched in a business-as-usual framework. Those new means will be used to old ends. The flavor of this discussion is contained in the titles of two major works within this tradition: Media Imperialism Reconsidered and Electronic Colonialism.22 Such electronic exploitation is a distinct possibility. However, this outcome has not yet been determined. There is a positive alternative as well as this negative alternative.

Kimon Valaskakis has described two major scenarios for the information society - the telematique and the privatique.23 The former is modeled on the television system and the latter on the telephone system. In the former scenario, a few huge sources (like the three major television networks in the United States) beam information down a great electronic highway to millions of destinations at their terminals. In the latter scenario, the terminals are interconnected in a vast network, such that everyone can be a source as well as a destination.

No doubt, what will emerge will be some complex combination of both scenarios, complicated by the "pique" scenario in which some people reject some of the technology. However, those two "pure" scenarios help us evaluate which developments contribute toward oppression and which toward liberation. The telematique scenario is potentially more oppressive. Big Brother can not operate over a telephone network. On the other hand, as Hazel Henderson has demonstrated, grassroots movements can use it very effectively. It has been argued that a dictatorship can not thrive in a country where 20% of the population have access to a telephone.

Whereas in the industrial society, we had a division between the haves and the have-nots, in the information society, we will have a division between the knows and the know-nots. Those technologies help one become a "know". Vast sources of information are as close as the nearest telephone. The telephone can be in Timbuctoo or Toronto, New Guinea or New Jersey. The information is equally accessible. Already, as one sign of the coming times, Telidon two-way terminals are being installed in barrios in Caracas, Venezuela.

22   Lee, Chin-Chuan, Media Imperialism Reconsidered: The Homogenization of Television Culture. Beverly Hills, California: Sage, 1981.

McPhail, Thomas L., Electronic Colonialism: The Future of International Broadcasting and Communication. Beverly Hills, California: Sage Library of Social Research 126, 1981.

23   Kimon Valaskakis, The information society: The issue and the choices. Information Society Program, Integrating Volume. Montreal: GAMMA, 1979.