Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Information Age Revolution is a Bigger Deal than You Thought

The internet is revolutionizing economic production and human relations. I'm not sure that there has ever been one machine that has so clearly revolutionized both of these phenomena simultaneously.

That concurrence of phenomena is revolutionary in extraordinary ways. Information technology is therefore transforming not only how we view work and how we view relationships but also how we view the relationship between the two.

The relationship between work and human relationships is one of the central questions of history. Namely, how is productive activity helped or hindered by the impulse to connect with other human beings?

Information technology is beginning to make us optimistic about the economic potential inherent in cooperative, creative relationship. That optimism is politically profound in that it calls into question the paradigm of human society that focuses on the role of the ruler vis-รก-vis the ruled.

It is no coincidence that this reevaluation is happening at a time at which we can finally imagine that it is possible to care for the basic needs of all of humanity. Rather, that fact, the fact of plenty, affords us the comfort and confidence to re-imagine social relationships. At the same time, of course, information technology is partly responsible for the explosion of wealth that makes such a reality imaginable.

This revolution in social relationships has the potential to call forth an age of prosperity and peace that has been beyond our hopes. This is partly because information technology so clearly demands the mindset of cooperative thinking and so clearly highlights the potential inherent in the development of human capital.

Marx postulated that an age of cooperative production would be ushered in by the rise of the proletariat, the working classes. He did not, however, spend a great deal of time outlining the process by which the masses could prepare themselves to lead and organize society. His focus was on cooperation but not on the creative potential that has to be nourished to make cooperation worthwhile and productive. It is no surprise that Russia was never able to organize a society based on worker's empowerment: The workers were not sophisticated enough to run society. Inevitably, elites took over. Such elite control was inevitably, too, subject to corruption.

The rise of the paradigm of cooperative, creative production is at least as important as which class rules society. Information technology has highlighted, even to hardened capitalists and self-promoting entrepreneurs, the importance of developing human capital. This fact should not be dismissed with cynicism. Rather, it points to the forces of this age and should be seized upon accordingly.