An incredible article entitled Scan This Book, written by the New York Time's Kevin Kelly, probes the future of book publishing, the Internet, and finally, the many possible social benefits of information interconnectivity. Mr. Kelly's ability to see beyond the 5 boroughs of New York, indeed well beyond the controversial U.S. borders, is refreshing. The immediate implications include rapidly changing societies and more informed voters. The long term impacts may include better healthcare, improved nutrition and wider economic opportunities for everyone on earth.
Kelly seems to be expanding on the deepest thoughts of author Seth Lloyd (Programming The Universe, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2006). Ironically, mapping the intellectual heights of thinkers like Lloyd for the understanding of mere mortals is precisely what the information age is all about. The world needs web pages with hyperlinks to understand great thinkers from Mark Twain to Marie Curie. Great libraries are not available to the villagers in Ghana or Bihar. The Internet is already there or soon will be. What billions of ordinary people do with this knowledge will be far more significant than what the relatively small populations of wealthy nations have already done.
As someone who has followed words, authors, and ideas mentioned in one paragraph to hundreds of other destinations, I can fully appreciate Mr. Kelly's weltanschuaang. These days I meet too many people in the United States with a world view that barely extends past the hood of their SUV. When I travel overseas even the poor seem to better understand issues like energy conservation or what it means to vote in every election. Wealth and availability of information does not automatically create an informed electorate.
Beginning in the airport departure lounge, I meet people that understand the needs of the greater world community. The issues of the world seem to get lost in a land where people focus only on the cost of fuel at their neighborhood filling station. Nevertheless, the rest of the world's actions are a major part of what determines the cost of nearly everything we buy, in any part of the world.
It no longer matters if you are a technology-averse Luddite or even Old Order Amish. Information-sharing is directly impacting the existence of every human being. This impact grows phenomenally as people give more money and attention to tools like Google and ideas like those shared by Kelly and Lloyd. Intellectual property lawyers may fear for their client's copyrights but the tsunami of knowledge will not be stopped by arcane legal statutes.
People on boats in the Bay of Bengal can determine the market price of their catch in various ports, using the Internet. A villager in Vanuatu can learn from Mark Twain. A gifted little girl in Peru can now study chemistry when she is ready, not when her family can afford to send her to CalTech. A method for generating methane gas now practiced in Bihar is being repeated in Burkina Faso. All these people can share what they are learning with people thousands of miles away. Do not underestimate this power for one moment. Like it or not, we are all moving into a period of human history that is beyond the greatest ideas of science fiction writers. Those who fail to reap the greatest benefits will have only themselves to blame.