Not World War III - This Time the ICT Revolution

By Paul Budde
Paul Budde

In the past it has been wars and revolutions that created major changes in society. It was only after these events that old ideas, structures and doctrines gave way. And in many countries wars and revolutions are still functioning as a tool for change — the Arab Revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Empire are good examples of this.

But wars and revolutions are disruptive in an economic sense, cost the lives of many people, and necessitate costly rebuilds after the event.

At the UN Broadband Commission it was argued that the current massive changes in technology could actually function as tools for change to overthrow the outdated structures and old doctrines, but in a far less destructive way, and driven by the people rather than by political leaders, the military, etc. The enormous effect that the internet — in its broadest sense — is having on society is already acting as a revolutionary tool.

The internet has brought people together in ways that are unprecedented and this is having an enormous effect on political structures, both in democratic countries and in countries with other regimes in place. Society is becoming adjusted to the way the internet has changed lives, but politician, governments and regulations are running well behind. Because of the slowness of these people and organisations to react, their resistance to change is no different from what often causes wars or revolutions.

We also see governments using ICT as a weapon of war, and aimed not only at enemies but also at their own citizens — not all that different from the East German STASI (where 90% of the population in one way or another was used to spy) and the KGB in Russia.

We all know what happened to the political structures that were behind these structures, and the current spying activities from organisations such as NSA are of a similar kind.

If in the end the old structures don't change, in one way or another revolution will follow. However if we have learned from the past these new revolutions don't have to be so destructive. If ICT is the catalyst we can change our societies and economies in a much more strategic and peaceful way.

The forces behind such an ICT revolution are the same as those that caused the old forms of war and revolution. These old forces are the protectors of constructs which are no longer useful, but which still have very strong and powerful support from the vested interests behind politics, the military and the economy and, to a lesser extent, some sections of society.

So far those in charge of the ICT revolutionary forces have not been overly successful in convincing those protecting the old structures to adapt to the new situation and use the ICT tools to bring about change. On the other hand, we do see support for these changes among large sections of the population, sometimes as high as 70%. So it is a social tsunami in the making.

It will be interesting to see what will happen over the next 5 to 10 years — we are certainly living in turbulent times. Can we solve some of these problems through an ICT revolution, or do we have to revert to the destructive tools of the past. I am optimistic, but only time will tell.

We have the tools to build smart societies, communities, cities and countries. We have the tools to address issues in healthcare, education, energy, the environment, clean water and so on. We have the tools for e-democracy — and not only within countries but across countries.

So let's get on with an ICT-driven revolution.

By Paul Budde, Managing Director of Paul Budde Communication. Paul is also a contributor of the Paul Budde Communication blog located here.

Related topics: Internet Governance

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