In my Follett Lecture at Dominican University this week I examined the true nature of our information space and introduced the argument of considering information space in the same manner we conceive of the environment. To this end, we recognize the information space in which the majority of the world resides (and all will reside in soon) to be a new ecology that should be shared and managed on a global level to serve humanity. While I realize there are many criticisms we can level against the way our species has managed the planet, there is little disagreement that the environment needs protection, monitoring and the application of standards on how we use it. Can we start to consider the world of information in the same way?
To do this does require our taking more control. Large corporations cannot continue to be allowed to act in the interests of profit over people. Regulations of the kind introduced for data privacy in Europe are a model that we would do well to apply more widely. Technology that plays purely on the natural cognitive tendency to react to movement, change and dopamine loops needs to be understood for what it is, and alternatives developed. And consumers need to make their dollars count by purchasing better, more human-centered products.
Yes, this will require a sea change in governmental regulation, a willingness on politicians’ part to take more than campaign gifts from Facebook, Google and the like, and a massive educational effort in digital literacy (in the truest sense of the term) but we need to start. Universities need to lead the way here and offer intellectual leadership in helping the world to understand the benefits and pitfalls of technology choices, to increase our understanding of how the information world is structured and shaped, and to help craft appropriate policies for managing this new ecology into the future. Most universities like to make bold claims about addressing big challenges, and among them the environment is nearly always listed. Well it’s time to treat our information space equivalently while there’s still time.