Just as a caterpillar liquefies its own internal organs in order to become a chrysalis and after a period of time a butterfly, modern society has now reached another great turning point, the beginning of a new age. Individuals, who until now were constrained by the communities–both organizational and regional–to which they were inextricably bound, have finally been able to throw off their shackles and to attain a freedom of movement. Yet at the same time, these individuals are often confused and lost, having been thrust out bare and alone into a society that is a smoldering sea of changes.
In order to survive the increasingly IT-oriented society in which we live, it is crucial that people develop an understanding of Cyberspace, the virtual-information space that is beginning to completely overlay our Realspace. This understanding, or “Cyber-literacy” is a fundamental skill that all people in the modern world must attain.
Computer-literacy Information-literacy Cyber-literacy
“Computer-literacy” focuses on familiarizing individuals with the operation of digital equipment such as computers. “Information-literacy” (or Media-literacy) expands on this by allowing people to develop a fundamental understanding of all aspects of information. In this way they will be able to choose between specific bits and sources of information, and to re-work and produce new information of their own. “Cyber-literacy” is an even broader concept, one that addresses the entirety of the life of modern man, a life that is now completely encompassed by Cyberspace. To consider Cyber-literacy is not to dream of the various rose-colored futures that information technology could make possible. One should, after all, be wary of inherent dangers. This is instead an attempt to search for the “knowledge” that will permit the flowering of a rich and fulfilling life in this rapidly-evolving new world.
Culure of the Voice Culture of the Written Word Culture of the Electronics
Walter Ong showed us how the structure of a culture that had no knowledge of the written word and taught its traditions orally (a culture of the voice, Orality) was fundamentally different from that of a culture based on writing (a culture of the written word, Literacy). The act of writing trapped words into a physical space, which infinitely expanded the potentials inherent in language and ultimately altered the very process of thought itself. The invention of typography by Gutenberg served to strengthen this feature of the written word, and to transform it as well. The digitilization of information now makes it possible for words to be completely released from the context in which they are embedded, so that the reader can freely re-structure them for his own needs. Just as printing technology paved the way for our modern age, the digital revolution in which we now find ourselves will dramatically alter our sensibilities, thoughts and even behavior patterns. But precisely because these changes that are occurring are so vast, it is difficult to discern the historical shifts that are occurring all around us. We must therefore redouble our efforts to define these changes, and to better understand the true nature of the eletronic culture in which we are now immersed.
The Challenge of the Individual in an IT Society
One thing is clear. Society will now center around autonomous individuals, and not on large organizations and corporations as in the past. But because human beings cannot live in complete isolation, new organizations and networks will develop that will link and support these free, independent individuals. These new, non-hierarchical structures will be both global and local, and will in the main tend to be small-scaled. Existing institutions will not suddenly disappear from the face of the earth, but will gradually transform themselves to meet the new needs of the age. The relationships they maintain with individuals will be much looser and less-constraining than before. Thus we will see the emergence of a world where people move among many-layered networks and structures, all of which straddle both Cyberspace and Realspace. Just as water molecules are released into the air when transformed into steam, people will be freed from the shackles of existing organizations and drift freely into society. They will be able to break through the walls that enclose families, schools, corporations, even nations and ethnic groups, in order to mingle freely with all the peoples of the world. Yet at the same time, there is a powerlessness in this drifting freedom that can give rise to confusion, searing loneliness, even instability. It is for this reason that I wish to continue exploring all the possible paths that individuals, as well as societies, can build in this dawning new age.