THE NEW INFORMATION HAVES & HAVE NOTS

Global divide in openness becomes basis for economic war

It’s been a long time coming, but the world has really crystallized dramatically around two extremes – the quest for freedom of speech and openness, and the total control of information flows on the other. Today, in terms of information access, you’re either an ‘open’ or ‘closed’ economy.

Most of the countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa have now stopped trying to pretend that they don’t censor information access by their citizens.

Those countries traditionally called ‘The West’ still pride themselves in their attitudes to freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Between them has developed a gulf which is becoming increasingly ‘economic’.

Now that more than 70% of the world’s economic activity comes from nominal ‘information services’, trade between the ‘open’ and ‘closed’ economies has become severely restricted and very difficult to conduct.

The iconic ‘Great Firewall of China’ is doing in the 21st Century what the original Great Wall did to keep China from foreign contamination for millennia before that.

What started out in the early 2000s as selective banning of access to YouTube, Facebook and other social networking portals, plus specific blocking of certain web sites, has now become a gross manipulation of information accessible to citizens of these ‘closed’ countries.

Open and closed for information access has now become synonymous with open and closed for business as companies wage economic wars based on the philosophical principles of ‘information freedom’ enshrined in national constitutions.

It has been estimated that world trade is now 20% lower than it would have been without the current information wars. China’s export markets have been hit severely as countries put up trade barriers. Inflation rates in ‘The West’ have soared as countries ‘choose’ to buy more expensive imports.

Despite these powerful economic effects, countries appear to be standing their philosophical ground. The NIMBY principle should perhaps be added to the familiar 1960’s slogan “Information wants to be free – but not in my backyard!”


ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be

The principles underpinning freedom of information go back to Thomas Jefferson and even Abraham Lincoln, but the classic slogans arose in the 1950s and 1960s. Here’s Wikipedia’s history…

Peter Samson said “Information should be free” in 1959 at the MIT Tech Model Railroad Club.

The term developed to “Information wants to be free”, stated in 1968 by[citation needed] attaching a philosophical desire to float freely.

The first modern recorded occurrence of this expression was spoken by Stewart Brand at the first Hackers’ Conference in 1984, in the following context: On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

Brand’s conference remarks are transcribed in the Whole Earth Review (May 1985, p. 49) and a later form appears in his The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT: Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. … That tension will not go away.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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