Each of the fears considered in the above chapter could, with a shift in perspective, be considered as a hope. This chapter shift from the half-empty perspective of the previous chapter to the half-full perspective. Let us consider a number of shifts implied by this shift in perspective.

9.21: From Institution to Individual

Democracy requires a delicate balance of power between that of the institution and that of the individual. Too much relative power to the institution results in totalitarianism and too much relative power to the individual results in anarchy. The last chapter considered the case in which the new informatics technology is used by the institution to shift the balance of power toward totalitarianism. This chapter will consider the case in which the new informatics technology is used by the individual to regain the balance of power.

There is little doubt that the new informatics technology can be used, as have previous technologies, as a means of oppression. However, some people , including myself, hold out the hope that this technology could be a Frankenstein which will escape the control of its creator. The individual could seize control of this technology and make it a means of liberation rather than of oppression. Just as the printing press democratized the distribution of knowledge, so the new informatics may democratize the production of knowledge.1

The new informatics promise to permit the individual more rather than less autonomy. The new information technologies open up more options. We can choose to have a job or not have a job, to work or not to work, to live in the country or live in the city.

Machines, once heralded as labor-saving devices, are now viewed as labor-replacing devices. We should be delighted that machines are becoming available to take over the mechanical functions of the brain and, thereby, setting us free for human functions. Rather than fearing our obsolescence, we should be planning it. The leisure society of ancient Athens was possible only because slaves performed the necessary work. We can now move into a new moral Athens in which the monotonous work is performed by mechanical slaves. We should enter joyfully into a period of "jobless growth", and shift our attention from saving jobs to distributing the wealth generated by our improved production capacity.2

The information machines make it finally feasible to have all information available at all times in all places. It is not necessary, then, for so many of us to be huddled together in cities. Rather than detract from our human contact, the new information machines promise more community feeling. We can live in small rural communities where a sense of community is more possible. Just as machines have been used as extensions of persons to reach into dangerous environments, so the new information machines can be used, by those who prefer rural life, to reach into drab urban environments to grab the information necessary for leading a productive and pleasant life. We should establish synergetic relationships with machines in which they do mechanical things and we do human things. The reduction of mechanical chores provides both the time and the motivation to explore what is essentially human.

1   Harold Abelson & Andrea diSessa, Turtle Geometry: The Computer as a Medium for Exploring Mathematics. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1980. This book, for example, was created on my desktop.

2   The concept of "jobless growth", in which wealth became independent of employment, was introduced by Clive Jenkins & Barrie Sherman, The Collapse of Work. London: Eyre Metheun, 1979.