Issue 8 - Winter 2004
Inequalities in the Information Society: Problems and Solutions (page 1 of 2)
By Abdul Alkalimat, University of Toledo

It is a great pleasure to be here speaking at this conference. We have come as a delegation from Toledo, Ohio--faculty and students, from the campus and the community. Our hope in coming to this conference was to meet new friends and exchange information that can contribute to a new era of cooperation based on these new technologies that we have, and a new political understanding that we so desperately need. We would like to extend a hand of friendship to everyone here and declare our commitment to build relationships of cooperation and reciprocity, of sharing what we have and joining any struggle we can to stop the evils of exploitation and build a better world for us all.

Will all of the Toledo spiders please stand up? After this session we will have a table in the IDICT booth, and the spiders will be there to answer and ask questions and pass out free our CDs and other publications so you can be more familiar with our work. We would like to learn about your work as well.

We work in a lower income inner city African American community in the post-industrial midwestern heartland of the USA. Toledo is a city of over 300,000 in a metropolitan area of 500,000. We are located one hour south of Detroit, 2 hours west of Cleveland, and 3 hours east of Chicago. We are in the heartland of the USA. The 2000 census figures indicate the city is 23% African American and 6% Latino. (The US census often reports these figures on Blacks and Latinos as if they are separate and not overlapping population categories.) Using the latest census figures the household income in Toledo was $24,819 (USA = $30,056, 25% more than Toledo), with a full 20% of the population below the official government poverty level. We are the home of the Jeep Cherokee for state of the art auto production, Libby glass, and the global headquarters of the Dana Corporation - auto parts and supplies are produced by over 70,000 employees, in 300 facilities in 34 countries with sales of over $10 billion. In Toledo we have global capitalists, workers, and poor people being thrown out of industrial society.

In Toledo, Ohio, we are at the edge of industrial decline, a place where corporate decisions to maximize profit are life and death questions for entire communities. The old assembly line mass production capitalism created a solid foundation for the Toledo economy and drew to its neighborhoods immigrants from the US rural south and from Mexico, and from many parts of Europe, especially Germany, Hungary, and all of Eastern Europe. In the Great Depression the workers and their families launched a mass strike in 1936, the Auto-Lite Strike, and that led to the Great Sit Down Strike in Flint Michigan organized by the same activists. This strike wave that started in Toledo led to the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the CIO, and a new era of labor militancy was born. Now this industrial system is being transformed and the people who fed their families from the assembly line are now being abandoned at the beginning of this new information era Our current social crisis far exceeds the 1930's and goes back to the mid 19th century origins of industrial capitalism discussed by Marx and Engels. This is the historic context for our meeting this week, and the material conditions that require our intervention in history.

The world we live in is not the world of yesterday, and it is not the world of tomorrow, it is the world of today. This statement has special meaning as we begin a new century, as we begin the information revolution, as we face the end of the industrial system we have struggled in for all of the 20th century. The history of every country is the history of people fighting for a better life, sometimes in the realm of science, sometimes in the realm of politics, and always in the realm of culture we have been fighting for a better life. Our paper is about this current moment, our need to intervene in history to understand and change the beginning of a new kind of society, the information society based on electrical digital technology.

There are two general themes of this talk. The first is to discuss key aspects of the information society, how it is different from industrial society, how it transforms the class polarities of industrial society into polarities defined by informational parameters. Then, secondly, we will attempt to suggest how we might move forward given the polarities we face. How do we intervene in this historical process of the birth of the information society to advance the cause of democracy, peace and justice? What is the future potential of this information society for achieving the strategic goal of human freedom?

The revolution in technology

The information society is being born via a fundamental transformation in technology, digital electronic technology, hence many think of it as a revolutionary experience. This is a profound belief that we need to discuss. Are we in the midst of a revolutionary process? This is a key theoretical question with great practical implications. The word revolution means fundamental transformation, a change in the basic nature of society and the conditions for life itself. There can be many kinds of revolutions, revolution in music, in poetry, in all aspects of human activity, but there is a special sense in which the word revolution is used to define a new kind of society, the beginning of a stage of human history. It is in this latter sense that we are experiencing a revolution today - a fundamental transformation of the most important features of society, its basic character is being transformed. This is not merely a question of what is happening in a particular place, as clearly there are vast regions of the world without such technology. But, where these things exist so exists the global power that determines the well being of all of us, the forces we interact with whether we know it or not.

The machine driving this process is the computer, a tool that takes electricity to its highest level far exceeding being merely raw energy driving the moveable parts of machines. Now electricity is the environment in which information can be stored, manipulated, and presented. The first computer was probably the abacus created 5000 years ago. But the first computer to run on more than human energy was a steam driven machine created by Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871), a contemporary of Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882) and Karl Marx (1818 - 1883). Here we can observe a revolutionary moment in history - revolution in social science (Marx), revolution in natural science (Darwin), and a revolution in technology (Babbage). The full electrical revolution began when transistors became part of the process in 1948, followed by integrated circuits placed on silicon chips leading to the emergence of modern computing in the 1970's.

The computer has been linked with telephones and satellites to create networks for communication. This new global network is called the World Wide Web (WWW) and the Internet. For the first time humanity has the possibility of instantaneous communication of text, graphics (still and video), and sound on a global level.

At the base of this global network of computers and the Internet is the digital code. In fact we can say that the heart of the revolutionary process creating the information society is the universal digital code, a code that can take all forms of information, text, image and sound, and in a series of digits, 0's and 1's, store this information and access it at any time and any place on the network. It is an interesting fact that much like the mid nineteenth century this is a time of fundamental revolutionary action on all levels: the technological revolution of the digital code for computer based communication of all forms of information, and the scientific revolution of the DNA code for life including the Human Genome. We are in search of such clarity about the nature of the social revolution that is happening now, and will surely be more and more obvious in the decades to come.

This use of the universal digital code is made possible by the rapid expansion of the capacity of the micro-chip based on Moore's law, an observation made in 1965 by an engineer Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, that every 18 months the capacity of the microchip doubles and the price is reduced by 50%. This is what has made the rapid explosion of opportunities like teleconferencing, DVD digital recording of movies and MP3 recording of music, etc. Given this explosion of technological capacity, there has been a massive investment, sometimes based on discovery and innovation but often based on a hunch and a gamble.

The rapid adoption of technologies of the Internet and the www is clear. In 1997 there were 40 million people on line representing about 1% of the world population, while by 2002 there were 544 million people on line making up 9% of the total population. But this general figure is quite polarized as Europe and North American make up 65% of online population, and the per cent goes up to 90% if you add the Asian countries of both parts of China (46 million), Japan (49 million), South Korea (22 million), Australia (10 million) and India (5 million).

Via this development in societies all over the world we have seen the development of three kinds of geospatial centers emerge:

  • Technopoles: specialized urban areas based on the new technologies
  • De-linked areas with virtually no connectivity, and
  • Dual centers in which some have high connectivity and others are isolated.

The majority of humanity is coming under the influence and control of the technological productivity of the technopoles - they invent the machines and write the software the corporate, military and governments use. On the other hand, most of us live in dual environments of cities or de-linked if in most rural areas of the world. In fact, in the third world of Asia, Africa, and Latin America the Internet and web based technologies are dominated by the NGO's of the dominate countries of Europe and North America, therefore much technology in Asia, Africa, and Latin America does not represent indigenous capacity building but the infrastructure of globalization. It is in this context that we have to debate the issue of development - to what extent an appendage of the global system of capital, and to what extent a freestanding economic base for the home market. More >>


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