SUNDAY TRIBUNE: 21 NOVEMBER 2004
WHEN it arrived, the integrated circuit or silicon chip unleashed prophetic visions of doom and gloom. It was the boom, however, which caught the imagination, swept along by fairy tale promises of flying cars, robotic house cleaners and prolonged lives of endless leisure.
So what happened? Well a hell of a lot, especially when held up to the only measuring tape which seems to matter - economics. These days there seems to be no other measure worth reckoning with and the market mantra is the alpha and omega of what counts for modernity.
So where are the flying cars (Formula One aside)? Those promised lives of leisure remain reserved for the rich. And the dead.
Those Nirvanic dreams are no more as doom and gloom caught up with the boom. Now there are questions being raised about the true toll of the information superhighway. It's been named as the Information Age, which puts it right up there with the big hitters of Ice, Stone and Bronze.
Doom and gloom is taking hold as the perceived benefits of technology fade to grey while its dangers are in living colour. Communications technology, in particular, was supposed to have made life more rewarding, more enjoyable. Easier even.
Instead it is judged to have brought more complex problems, with equally complicated answers. The perceived quickening pace of life is somewhat attributed to technology alongside the disappointment in its failure to deliver on its promises of a better world.
Those dreams are turning into nightmares as we speculate while hurtling toward a world where machines mediate our lives.
We lose track of time and history and imagine ourselves as unique in having to deal with the consequences of technology. Oblivious to past worlds whose own nightmares emerged with the first electricity and telegraph poles and went up every time a Zeppelin came down.
Those were hierarchical times (in more ways than one) where the state was the guarantor of guidance. Arbiter of behaviour and protector of society, relied upon in times of upheaval for a steady hand on the tiller. These days there's just a steady hand on the till.
Outside of economics, we are being left to our own devices. In the realm of media and communications nothing is clearer. We are moving into a de-regulated world unlike anything which came before.
I wrote recently about the way in which the internet will make television almost impossible to regulate the way it is now. Last week it was radio's turn and calls for complete deregulation. As radio is already moving onto to the internet, that scenario hoves into view in any case.
The launch of new 3G telephone services will shortly be followed by age restrictions on who can and cannot purchase 3G phones. These networks are exploring selling services to over-18s only and that means, however soft it is, porn. And yet the state's response is to deny telephones to a huge section of society for our own good. Really?
In many other areas we're witnessing the hand of the state silently removing itself. In an increasingly deregulated communications sector, self-regulation is the order of the day.
And that applies to individuals as well. That may well be pleasing to some, but it is madness to expect society to just throw off the habits of a lifetime and embrace a world filled with nightmarish unknowns.
Our ability to competently use various technologies such as computers and mobile phones is not the same thing as accepting the consequences of their use.
The state may be unwilling or incapable of providing guarantees but it is seriously failing in its duty if it doesn't provide guidance. And the way that can be achieved is through education in schools. Beginning at primary.
Technological and media literacy are about providing the necessary tools for understanding and meaningful participation in society. They are the logical follow up to literacy in reading, writing and arithmetic.
It is time the state attacked these new literacy requirements with the same vigour it once did the old.