Where Will Technology Take Us? Interview with Jeffrey Cole, UCLA Center for Communication Policy
Chuck, Lysbeth, Searcher
Dr. Jeffrey I. Cole is the Director of the University of California at Los Angeles' year-old Center for Communication Policy, an organization that has risen to national prominence in an astonishingly short time, due largely to Dr. Cole's unwavering focus on the Center's mission. That mission is: to examine, decipher, and interpret the role of media technologies - especially "New Media" - in determining the industries, professions, and societies of tomorrow. A press release from UCLA describes the Center's goal as a mandate to "study the broad communications issues that will affect society over the next 50 years, and to help develop both private and public policies to address those issues."
A recipient of UCLA's "Distinguished Teaching Award," Cole has taught classes in communications and new media at UCLA for the past 15 years. He has served as a consultant to companies across the country in nearly every sector of the information industry, from motion picture and television production to the news media telecommunications professionals. Under his direction, the Center for Communication Policy has accomplished a great deal. It worked closely with the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to produce, in January of this year, the watershed "Information Superhighway Super Summit" at UCLA, a one-day crash-course in information technology and industry convergence hosted by Vice President Al Gore. The "Super Summit" featured panel discussions with speakers such as Ray Smith (Bell-Atlantic), John Malone (Tele-Communications, Inc), Michael Eisner (Disney), Barry Diller (QVC), Rupert Murdoch (News Corp.), as well as Allen Kay, an Apple Fellow and one of the original architects of the Internet, and Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Development and co-founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation.
Most recently, the United States Senate and four broadcast networks selected the Center for Communication Policy to conduct a multi-year study of violence in the media - a study that Congress will use to determine when, how, or if more regulation of broadcast content is required. In January of 1995, the Center will host another "Summit," this one on the issue of violence in society, especially the media's role in it. The keynote speaker will be President Clinton.
We caught up with Jeff Cole in the middle of a move. The Center has new quarters in Westwood near the UCLA campus. The prevailing situation in the offices seemed an almost perfect metaphor for the Information Society today - a jumble of phone lines, phones, voicemail, faxes, e-mail, televisions, VCRs, cable lines, computers, and modems - all available, but all waiting to be supplied with power, connections, and purpose.
Chuck: The buzzword in the information world today is "convergence." There's a convergence of information technologies and of information industries going on. Given all the years you've spent studying and teaching "new media," how would you characterize it? What distinguishes it from the past half-century of technological change?
Cole: We're witnessing a revolution. The word is frequently overused and misapplied, but it's the most accurate description I can give you. In fact, we're living through the third communication revolution, and it will have as much impact on our society as did the first two - the advent of language and the development of print. It's that important.
Chuck: Speaking very broadly, many experts see the federal government's role in regulating new industries as following one of three "models." The first model is the national telephone system, which grew up almost as a government-controlled monopoly. The second is the broadcasting industry which has also been very heavily regulated by the federal government since its inception, although not as a monopoly. Finally, there's the electrical power industry, which is almost as heavily regulated as the other two, but usually at the state level. Which of these models do you think will apply to the new information industry as it emerges? …