IN SEARCH OF A ROLE
I've been around a lot of places. People do awful things to each other. But it's worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark. It really is. Information is light. Information, in itself, about anything, is light. That's all you can say, really.
-- Tom Stoppard, Night and Day
Predicting the future of the news and public information business is probably more difficult than anticipating developments in other institutions upon which society depends for order and enlightenment. By its very nature the news media changes rapidly, uses and discards its basic products, and ceaselessly adjusts to consumer tastes. If most of the information human beings need and look for becomes digitalized, economic concerns, which have for so long driven the purveyors of news, will surely become more complex, and many companies will rise and fall in the process. To begin with, the question of ownership and control of information will have to be examined and, no doubt, litigated. Whatever finds its way to the "computer nets" conveyed without wire will be, to a substantial extent, up for grabs. Digital communication is capable of being reliably accurate, inexpensive, ecologically sound, and easy to master. It will also stimulate much political and economic controversy. Where and how the profits will be made already consumes the corporate world. But how the essential information needs of human society will be served all over the planet -- a population that is expected to double in size by the year 2050 -- is far from clear.
The Economist, in autumn 1993, produced a collection of essays it called "The Future Surveyed." Eminent "writers, thinkers, and politicians" suggested the more likely developments of the next 150 years. Hedging their bets, the editors quoted that great coiner of caveats cinemogul Samuel Goldwyn, who wisely advised, "Never prophesy, especially about the future."
Having acknowledged the daunting nature of the task, the Economist pressed on with the help of distinguished guest colleagues to forecast world