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Information technology and revolution

Information technology and revolution.

This isn’t the first time in history that new information technologies have sparked revolution. It’s a recurring pattern.

 

Before the printing press, books were hand-written manuscripts available only to the clergy and the wealthy. The mostly-illiterate public relied on those in power to interpret humankind’s body of knowledge. Any communication between ordinary people relied on word of mouth and was mostly limited to short distances. In short, information was distributed in pockets and silos.

 

The printing press gave people a way to share information in a peer-to-peer way, bypassing the traditional power structures. The rapid information sharing that followed, via books, pamphlets, newspapers and scientific journals, effectively ended the Middle Ages and sparked the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and ultimately the political revolutions that resulted in the first constitutional democracies.

 

Today the web is having a similarly profound effect, allowing people to bypass traditional media channels and power structures to communicate with each other directly. Once again, information and ideas which were contained in pockets and silos are spreading far and wide. Once again, innovation is accelerating. Once again, mass peer-to-peer communication is enabling and empowering social, intellectual and political revolutions.

 

Peer-to-peer information technologies like the printing press and the web unleash powerful revolutionary forces. But revolutions begin in the streets. They often go unnoticed or ridiculed in their early stages. It took 100 years of bible-printing before Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenburg. It was another hundred years before the first scientific journals were printed, and another hundred before the American Revolution broke out in 1775. It took more than ten years for colonial dissent to simmer before the American Revolution broke out into open war.

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Taken on November 6, 2011