Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Entering the Infosphere

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Entering the Infosphere

Article excerpt

The world is entering an historical period of big change. Big change is complex and chaotic, and almost impossible to view from an objective distance by any of its participants. Big change is defined in this article as migration and revolution combined. Migration is human passage, the move from one place of identity and belonging to another, and it is the central action of big change. Revolution is the ratification of the place that change makes. This is achieved through social political theater, in which a new elite takes on the authority of leadership, and in which elite and all society mark their emergence from the passage of big change. Revolutionary theater is necessary to resolve the complex conflicts unleashed by migration. The theater of great events, with its ultimate focus on the politics of vision and authority, is culture's ritual conveyance, whereby society is moved through a shared, symbolic passage so that it can accept all that has happened.

This article focuses on big change in the United States, knowing that the change will eventually sweep over the world. But the initial change in Americans' lives raises several existential questions:

* How to come out of this migration and still feel a sense of larger community and identity?

* Who among many eager competitors will form the new elite?

* How will authority be transferred, in terms of legitimating a new elite and a new vision of American life?

* What might we imagine as the theater of change, its politics, our future history's great events?


The Infosphere is our vehicle of change--a vehicle we have come to call technology The argument that shifts in technology are intimately intertwined with shifts in human life is commonplace. Not so familiar is the argument, advanced here, that these shifts create a new human place and that society, eventually, migrates to it. Even beyond that is the argument that another such shift is beginning and that migration has already begun to a place called the Infosphere. A place which has almost no material aspect and has not even entered the collective mind--yet.

What is the Infosphere?

The Infosphere is shorthand for the fusion of all the world's communications networks, databases and sources of information into a vast, intertwined and heterogeneous tapestry of electronic interchange. The global fusion of networks changes the character of each individual network. Networks will no longer serve simply as the medium through which people in different places can communicate, enhancing their in situ activities. The global fusion of networks creates a network ecology. A place in which people can gather and do business. People will be able to conduct their activities increasingly in the global network ecology(1)--the Infosphere.

The Infosphere has the potential to gather all people and all knowledge together in one place. This is what makes the Infosphere so compelling. The place itself is not "real," meaning, it is not part of our normal, physical world. Operating in the Infosphere is disconcerting today, but people accept its alien environment because it offers tremendous advantages. It gives people the ability to meet and access information anywhere, all the time. And people can meet in groups, share information and make agreements, just like they do in situ. The difference is that they are not site-bound. Eventually, as the environment becomes more familiar, it will become less alien.

Business transactions and financial exchange are already migrating to the Infosphere, which is rapidly becoming the new global marketplace. People well-equipped to enter the Infosphere today are finding that they can do business while reducing onsite overhead dramatically, happily pruning business travel and exponentially expanding customer geography. Thus economic advantage is driving the evolution of the Infosphere. …

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