The Third Force
The information field represents a third force that is vital to our future well being. Sure we need technological advances and we need to understand how to leverage economic benefit from all the data that is out there, but as we now enter the first century in which more than half the world resides in an urban environment, the emerging socio-technical world in which we all reside needs to be understood as more than a computing and business environment. Without this other perspective we will not attend fully to important matters of policy and governance, design and interaction, curation and accuracy, and education and enhancement in our lives. The trouble with most discussions of information is they are tied so closely to a narrow view of technology that it is easy to lose sight of how enveloped we are becoming in new practices, behaviours and experiences. Yet it is these very human and cultural aspects which will prove vital to our ability to shape the kind of world in which we wish to live. I employed the term ‘third force’ in recent talks to emphasize how important it is for those of us in the information field to engage actively when the other forces of dominate discussions of how the future will be. I am not beating up on the business or technological agenda of others, I accept them as necessary. But I do object to discussions of information and our world being dominated by business and technological interests. If technology meeting the free market is all we need, why do I have to pay for bundled cable rather than the channels I actually watch? Why do libraries have to purchase journals they never use to get access to a few the scholars they support really read? Why are DVDs regionalized for playback? Why must I upgrade my software and hardware on a manufacturer’s cycle rather than my genuine need? Why are my 10 year old floppy disks gathering dust but my 50 year old vinyl records still sounding joyous? Why is educational software so bad, and gaming software so violent? Why must I limit the use of my own words once I agree to have them published in a scholarly journal? Why is most policy on information infrastructure so out of touch with our professional and personal lives? Who will steward our cultural resources when there is no obvious profit margin to be gained? And don’t forget all the other questions about access to information, the right to read what you want, the accuracy of information and so forth. The answers to these questions might point you in a new direction for thinking about our world and how we want it to be. May the third force be with you!