Community and the Third Wave: An Analysis of the Magna Carta for
a New Civilization and The Community Builders Guide to Telecommunications
Technology Documents (page 1 of
by Paul Shafer
the dawning of a New Civilization. By now the claim that we
are entering a new age of some kind or another is routine. Alvin
Toffler's Third Wave argument, for example, claims we are experiencing
a technological revolution of dramatic proportion that is changing
the way we think, communicate, and act. New technologies have
created previously unimaginable possibilities for the exercise
of individual enterprise and for participation in the evolution
of a new society. In short, the so-called Third Wave offers
civilization a new conception of freedom, both in terms of individuals
and communities, a freedom unencumbered by the mass mentality
of the old forms of civil society and state.
fiction? In part the answer to this question depends on your
point of view. According to a recent document distributed by
the Progress & Freedom Foundation entitled A Magna Carta
for a New Civilization, the Third Wave is a promising and inevitable
reality that ought to be ushered in with all due speed. Viewed
through the telescopic lens of privilege and optimism, the future
holds all the excitement of the latest high-end automobile:
it's speedy, stylish, and its sheer novelty is exhilarating.
Who wouldn't want to drive a BMW or Mercedes? Of course in reality
most people settle for something far less, even the bus or subway,
and would have a difficult time imagining a future so rich in
not be surprising, then, that there are other perspectives on
technology. The National Community Building Network and The
Center for Human Resources at Brandeis University have collaborated
on a more practically oriented document entitled Community Builders
Guide to Telecommunications Technology. Their insights are derived
from the real needs of people and their communities. In what
follows I will review the major points of both positions, concluding
with an evaluative analysis of the Third Wave argument.
Carta for a New Civilization is based on the thoughts of its
four co-authors: Ms. Esther Dyson, Mr. George Gilder, Dr. George
Keyworth, and Dr. Alvin Toffler. Its primary function is to
provide theoretical description of the new epoch humankind has
entered--the Third Wave--and to suggest a political, economic,
and cultural agenda the authors believe is necessary in order
to make a complete transition from Second to Third Wave.
Carta begins with a provocative, if controversial, thesis:
central event of the 20th century is the overthrow of matter.
In technology, economics, and the politics of nations, wealth--in
the form of physical resources--has been losing value and
significance. The powers of mind are everywhere ascendant
over the brute force of things."
thesis, the bulk of the document is devoted to a descriptive analysis
of the major components of the social sphere by focusing on important
distinctions between Second and Third Wave elements in each area.
The authors explain the nature of typically Third Wave concepts
like cyberspace, though most of their analysis focuses on more
traditional Second Wave components of Western society like property,
the marketplace, freedom, community, and government. In conclusion,
they sketch out a set of recommendations for the remaking of government
in order to pave the way for a Third Wave civilization. The political
question of our age, an age still in transition, asks who will
shape the nature of cyberspace and with it the character and institutions
of a new age.
metaphor for the changes in society that have given rise to
speculation about an epochal shift to a new age is cyberspace.
Cyberspace is a bioelectronic environment of knowledge that
exists everywhere there are telephone wires, coaxial cables,
fiber-optic lines or electromagnetic waves. In this sense,
it is both universal, stretching across the globe in every
direction, and formless. Like a frontier, cyberspace is continually
expanding as people create and define its limits at an increasingly
accelerated pace. According to the authors of the Magna Carta,
the exploration of cyberspace is the key to a future filled
with individual opportunity and freedom:
is the land of knowledge, and the exploration of that land
can be a civilizations's truest, highest calling. The opportunity
is now before us to empower very person to pursue that calling
his or her own way."
frontier poses some critical challenges to a society still
largely enamored with the old ways. In fact, as the Magna
Carta argues, the social institutions of the Second Wave must
all be radically transformed before the Third Wave can fully
take root. Primarily, this means that the mass mentality of
centralization and standardization with which our institutions
and culture have been built, must be "demassified."
Consequently we must rethink some of the most basic concepts
of our culture, including property, the marketplace, freedom,
community, and government.
are several forms of property that make up cyberspace: "Wires,
coaxial cable, computers and other 'hardware'; the electromagnetic
spectrum; and 'intellectual property' -- the knowledge that
dwells in and defines cyberspace." The Magna Carta argues
that intellectual "cyberproperty" is the key Third
Wave property form. The most fundamental social transformation
in the new civilization will be the shift from a mass-production,
mass-media, mass-culture civilization to a demassified civilization,
which means that knowledge must itself be demassified:
dominant form of new knowledge in the Third Wave is perishable,
transient, customized knowledge: The right information,
combined with the right software and presentation, at precisely
the right time."
the big question as we stand at the threshold of the new civilization
concerns the ownership of cyberspace property rights. Who
will define the nature of these rights and how?
knowledge--a concept encompassing "data, information,
images, symbols, culture, ideology, and values"--is also
the key to understanding the Third Wave economy. "Customized
knowledge permits 'just in time' production for an ever rising
number of goods." This transforms the market, creating
the potential for a dynamic competition to replace the static
competition typical of the mass production mentality of the
Second Wave. The downsizing and restructuring trend of recent
years is an example of business using Third Wave technology
to make themselves more dynamic.
Wave innovations demand not just a re-thinking of property
and markets, but of the American concept of freedom itself.
The authors of the Magna Carta understand freedom in terms
of individual liberty, and argue that a reaffirmation of the
basic principles of such freedom is necessary for a genuine
exploration of the latest American frontier--cyberspace. In
practice this means rejecting the mass institutions of the
industrial age--"corporate and government bureaucracies,
huge civilian and military administrations, schools of all
types"--to make room for the flourishing of individual
liberty and the pioneer spirit. No longer will individuals
be required to give up their freedom in order for the system
as a whole to work:
complexity of Third Wave society is too great for any centrally
planned bureaucracy to manage. Demassification, customization,
individuality, freedom--these are the keys to success for
Third Wave civilization."
all the talk about individual liberty and the accompanying
plurality of interests in the Third Wave society, what will
be the nature of community? The Magna Carta argues that the
freedom and diversity already emerging as mass society breaks
up should not be understood in terms of the fragmentation
and balkanization of society, but as an opportunity for new
forms of community. Though no one knows what they will look
like, "cyberspace will play an important role knitting
together the diverse communities of tomorrow, facilitating
the creation of 'electronic neighborhoods' bound together
not by geography but by shared interests."
the Magna Carta argues that government must be reinvented
for the 21st Century. Third Wave government will be vastly
smaller than the current one (by 50 percent or more), though
it will not necessarily be weaker. In fact, the transition
from Second to Third Wave "will require a level of government
activity not seen since the New Deal." The authors outline
five proposals defining the role of government during this
Creating and facilitating the conditions for universal access
to interactive multimedia.
2. Promoting dynamic competition through antitrust regulation.
3. Defining and assigning property rights in cyberspace.
4. Creating pro-Third Wave tax and accounting rules.
5. Remaking government through the model of decentralization.
to grasp the future, the authors of the Magna Carta argue
that we must understand that the most basic political question
does not concern control over the last days of industrial
society, but who will shape the new civilization rising to
is time to embrace these challenges, to grasp the future
and pull ourselves forward. If we do so, we will indeed
renew the American Dream and enhance the promise of American
life." More >>