Electronic Data Banks

Shahzaman Mozumder. Bir Protik

marketing Manager, IBM World Trade Corp., Dhaka.

(Concluding part)

After reviewing the current (or traditional) sources of information, we are now in a position to look at the emerging sources of information and compare the associated advantages (or disadvantages).

1.  Electronic Data Banks

Imagine a big library where hundreds of thousands of books are stored. Now let us convert all the books from printed media (books) to electronic media (CD-ROM, Optical Disk etc.). Although the information content remains the same, we have achieved a qualitative improvement. The quality can be further enhanced by incorporating sound, video, motion and graphics. A “static” book could be converted into a dynamic information system, all the books in the library could be linked to each other based on the information content. This conversion process is very significant, maybe analogous to the beginning of writing, a similar conversion from memory to written documents must have occurred at that lime.

This media conversion will not be limited to only libraries containing books, but also to all sources of information like video, movies, timetables & schedules (air, rail etc.), shopping guides, banking facilities, insurance, reservations (movie, theater, air, rail etc.), educational facilities, including politics & personal communications.

2.  Supportive Infrastructure for information technology

Now let us imagine that in all of our homes we have a device which is a combination (also improvement) of three current technologies like TV, Telephone, and microcomputer. This device could be used for entertainment (watching TV, video, cable network, satellite, etc.), could be used for communications (talking to somebody and also viewing), and for obtaining & exchanging information. Let us call this hypothetical device a “Tele-Viewer”. Let us now examine how this device could be used to for information.

To obtain information through this device, the following three infrastructural facilities must be present:

*    High Speed telephone (communication) lines: Many of our homes are within the reach of the telephone network.  The  current  telephone network will have to be upgraded to support simultaneous transmission of voice, data, graphics, video and may be holographic messages. The future telephone network may be based on fiber optics or something comparable which can support very high data rates (by “very high” I refer to more than 100,000,000,000 Bits Per Second or 100 mbps, (the local telephone line cannot support more than 9,600 bits per second!). The reader will note that the current telephone line, after the metamorphosis is no longer a “telephone” line, because the same link will be used for other purposes.

*    The emergence of electronic service providers: The concept is rather similar to the current video library but all the cassettes are digitized and stored in computer data bases. There seems to be a potential for numerous providers of wide ranging services, depending on the information needs of the society, and

*    Affordable “Tele viewer” :    The price of the Tele Viewer must be within the reach of the common person. Similar to the current price of a TV. What would be the implications of the above infrastructure in any society?

The implications are enormous, exciting, frightening and endless. This technology has the potential to affect all aspect of our lives, culture and even our level of civilization. It will impact the way we think, work, communicate, compete, acquire knowledge, and entertain ourselves. There is hardly any sphere of our lives that will not be affected by this technology. In fact, it can even change the current level of our civilization!

To fathom the extent and power of information technology, in the following sections we would look at how it can impact the following areas of our lives :

1.  Education

We are born ignorant. As we grow, we receive education, both formal and informal. Through the education process we know about our environment and culture, about the society we live in and the social values. It also prepares us for the work we are expected to perform when we grow up.

The effectiveness of education depends on the learning tools at our disposal. The current or traditional learning tools are books, pencils, pens, classroom, lectures, teachers, audio & video, discussions, guided tours, expeditions & explorations, demonstrations etc. For formal education we have to enroll ourselves into schools, colleges, and universities, where most of the learning tools are concentrated.

The information technology will impact education in basically two ways. First, the tools itself would become immensely powerful by the assimilation of audio, video, text, animation, graphics and interactivity. Second, it will be accessible from every location, i.e., it will no longer be confined into specific locations like schools, colleges etc.

If we accept the premise that the quality and effectiveness of education are the basis of future well being of any particular society, then the advantages offered by information technology would not only be valued but would be the essence of the competitive edge among societies and cultures.

2. Work

As we grow into adults, we must work to earn a living. There are many types of work, like farming, animal husbandry, poultry, factory workers, office workers, working in utilities, life guards, pilots, drivers, ship captains etc. etc. We can divide the work into following categories :

* Farming & Agriculture

* Office Workers

*  Factory Workers

*  Service Industries and

*   Various fields of research and development

In order to work or render services, physical access to the work location is a prerequisite in our current level of industrial civilization.

In an information based society, physical access to the work location may not be required for the majority of office, factory, research and service workers. They would be equally or more productive by not having to shuttle between home and office, by This  is sponsored not adhering to a specified amount of time in their work locations. Information technology will allow the measurement of contribution of each, and an analogous system for compensation will evolve.

If physical access is not a mandatory for work, education or to obtain services, what would be the fate of current metropolis, cities & towns?

3. Government & Politics

In any democratic society today, we have to elect representatives because it is not practical (or possible) for all the citizens of a country to participate in all decision making process. Therefore, we must appoint (or elect) spokesman to represent our interest.

Now if information technology makes it practical for all the citizens to participate in all issues, the concept of “representation” becomes redundant. There will be no representatives or parliament in such a society, because technology enables them to self represent. Under such a scenario, what happens to the current form of government, how are they elected (if at all)? Or will the new form of government be run by professionals who will be responsible for implementing the requirements of the people, since they (the people) can now directly participate in all issues? It is difficult to predict the stable political form that will emerge at that stage, but it is certain that the political climate will undergo a radical change. Do we sec different political ideologies and interest groups? Likely, because homo sapiens will always have to face new issues, challenges and problems, but the nature and form could be inherently different.

It is also likely that the current concept of states covering a specific geographical boundary will disintegrate since this concept will no longer be productive or meaningful. The contemporary notion of physical distance will mutate and will not be as restrictive as it is today.

4. Changes in Family Structure

Let us review the evolution of the family concept and how it changed in the recorded history.

In a hunting society, the family was small and highly mobile because for survival it was necessary to follow the wild herds which was the basic source of food. The predominant social behavior must have been dominated by the need to survive, consequently, the higher needs did not have a chance to flourish.

The agricultural revolution made it practical to have an extended family because the nature of agriculture required some people to till the land and sow seeds, others to harvest and dry the crop, others to look after domestic animals, care for the young, etc., and people fall ages could share the workload, having a positive contribution on the welfare of the family. Also it was no longer necessary to be wandering in search of food, which is difficult for both the young and the elderly. Life became relatively predictable, and stable. Because of relatively non-perishable nature of agricultural produce, it was possible to save some food and other valuables for difficult times. In an agricultural society people also started enjoying some free time, and since the basic needs of food, shelter and reproduction were assured, this free time could be devoted to the fulfillment of higher needs.

The advent of industrial civilization upset the balance of the Agricultural society and the basic forces which cemented the society for so many generations, started to disintegrate. To cope with the demands of an industrial society, new standards of behavior were necessary.

The concept of extended family started to fragment due to the demands of the emerging industrial culture. Again the family needed to be mobile to move from cities to cities in search of jobs. The extended family was a hinder to such mobility. The factories demanded young and energetic workers. The very young and the elderly members of the family could not contribute in such a culture. (There are many examples that during the initial stages of industrialization, it was tried and later law had to be enacted to stop the abuse of children and the elderly). As a result, the extended family gradually transformed into its current form of nuclear family.

The advent of the information technology will again exert its influence on the family size. Because physical proximity to work location will not be mandatory, the family will once again undergo a metamorphosis and the family size will once again grow. It will be practical & productive for a number of generations to live and work together, under the umbrella of the family, since physical proximity to the work location will steadily diminish.

5. Changes in Level of Civilization

If we focus our attention to the characteristics of the current industrial society we find that:

*   All have mass iffier their societies through mass production, mass distribution, and mass education.

*   They tend to standardize everything from lifer styles to time.

*   All synchronize activity.

*   Centralize power.

*   Concentrate capital into large organizations and their people into cities.

The characteristics of our current level of civilization can also be traced to what we teach our children. Despite the dissimilar curriculum content in our schools, we all teach— punctuality, obedience, and tolerance for repetitive work. Such an education prepares the young for useful work in the production-line factories and classical bureaucracies that arc the inevitable forms of industrialized societies.

Under the influence of information and other advanced technology, mass if citation will no longer be valued, because the consumers Instead of valuing mass produced goods and services, they will demand personalized goods and services. In the absence of mass production, mass distribution does not apply. And we have already seen how mass education is replaced by more directed and widespread education system.

Mass production requires standardization. In the absence of mass production, there will be multiple or myriad standards depending on geographical, ethnic, national, or even personal characteristics.

In an Information Society, advanced technology will alleviate the requirements of manual synchronization. The current view of synchronization will mutate to a higher plane offered by technology.

The power could still be centralized but on a different elevation. Instead of bureaucratic centralization, it could be a collective centralization of power.

Summary

The Information technology is so powerful that not only it is influencing every aspect of our lives, but it will even change the level of our current civilization. The name of the next level of civilization is the “Information Age”. Many people call the driving force as the ‘Information Revolution’.

There are many measurements to differentiate between societies like par capita income, per capita use of energy, per capita consumption etc. But we forget that consumption, use, etc. are the results of something much more deeper. We hardly look at the hidden part of the iceberg.

The basic difference between success and failure is information. The more information at the disposal of any society, the more chances it has to be successful over its competitors. The better quality and quantity of information at the disposal of the society will be manifest in advanced science and technology used for improving living standards and lifestyles, consumption, education, competition and further research and development.

Earlier in the article I mentioned that the implications are frightening. The fear stems from its awesome power and our (Bangladesh’s) competitive predicament in the global setting. Many developing countries arc cognizant of the challenge and are deploying resources not only to close the gap, but also to position themselves for the emerging opportunities.

We are now “economic” slaves and if we keep our eyes closed, we risk being “Information” slaves. Please remember, without information living beings can not even survive!

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