Why People Have a Hard Time Getting Their Minds Wrapped Around the “Information Age”

infoagefunnelMany years ago, when I was teaching The Theory of the Information Age to people from around the world, I used to start a discussion of the Information Age by first asking whether people believed the Information Age was real.  Typically, I’d get hands raised in recognition that the world was, indeed, changing.  Then I’d ask the more difficult question:  “Can you tell me what the principle is that is driving that new age forward?”

This is where I’d get blank faces, and maybe a hesitant, questioning response of “Computers?” 

I didn’t do this exercise to embarrass people or to make them look foolish in any way.  I did it to try and help them to see and understand a new and novel idea that had never passed through their minds before.

abstract ideaThe real point is that a new age – as happened with the Industrial Age – comes about as a result of what starts as an abstract concept that has never been thought about before. 

For example, the idea of the “assembly line,” something that made car maker Henry Ford very famous, was just that – a new idea that no one could imagine as being practical in the past.  And until people could grasp the concept, most notably by seeing photographs or films of cars moving along an assembly line and being built in a new way, it didn’t register in a concrete manner.

Though The Theory of the Information Age is actually a rather simple concept, simply because it had never been done before, and also because it was hard to understand what would happen as a result of connecting computers via telecommunications worldwide, many people had a hard time trying to imagine the concept. 

In addition, unless one worked in the field of high technology, the idea of trying to hold in one's mind all the different types of electronics and wiring behind the scenes – something many people thought they had to include in their understanding – made it nearly impossible for many people to get past “step one” in their thinking. 

The massive amount of unknown high technology that one could not actually see in operation – unlike being able to see an assembly line in action – made it all even more complex, confusing, and intimidating to people.

In truth, however, to understand the Information Age, all one really needs to understand is that the interconnection essential concept is the interconnection of computers via telecommunications. And the decades of work it has taken for the Information Age to move into full force as a new economy and new social platform for human society has most fundamentally been in rebuilding the world’s telecommunications networks to provide the “pipes” to move – at the speed of light – the large amount of data it takes to provide pictures and video and sound and interaction of applications between computers.

Along the way, of course, as computers and consumer electronics have fused into new types of consumer and business tools, there has been an increasing sophistication taking place, which has been moving extremely rapidly, as the constant flow of new types of intelligent phones and computers and applications coming into being demonstrates – all relying upon that most fundamental ability to interconnect computers via telecommunications.

Many years ago, the Bell System conceived the idea that the greatest success of the telephone would occur if it were presented as a simple tool to use, so the American Telephone & Telegraph Company created the illusion that the telephone was so absolutely simple even a child could use it – all one had to do was just dial a string of numbers, and, rather amazingly, a telephone at another location anywhere in the world would ring in a few moments. 

Telephony, which is the fancy word for telephone communications, was easy and simple, and that was all there was to it…or so people thought.

Ignore the Man Behind the Curtain…

But not really.  Like the gyrations of the Wizard of Oz behind the scenes to create his magic, anyone who ever visited a telephone central office and happened to see the large switching machines that made a call happen, or saw the enormous telephone cables used to transmit calls or saw a telephone repeater, which amplified the telephone signals to keep them strong enough to reach across an entire continent or to pass under the seas, knew for a fact that making a telephone call was NOT, in fact, simple.  Indeed, telephony got even more complicated with the introduction of satellites, with the first being the legendary Telstar satellite – which even had a hit song written about it. And then got more complex again with the arrival of wireless phones.

The complexity of telecommunications (and computers) has grown almost exponentially over time with the use of optical fiber pulsing with the light of laser beams to transmit digital signals.  And wireless telephones and other devices have also increasingly grown in complexity from the early days back in the 1980s when a “car phone” used a transmitter so huge it took up the entire trunk of a car.

The point is that "ease of use" – like dialing a number and a call goes through without the user ever having to know one thing about the technology – has, as The Theory of the Information Age says, been an essential key to the arrival of the Information Age. The only thing anyone really needs to know is that the world changed based upon a simple concept – the ability to interconnect computers via telecommunications, which made it possible to do many new things, as the never-ending stream of TV commercials selling every variety of high technology illustrates.

What Might Have Stopped the Information Age

It wasn’t easy getting to the point we are at today in terms of development, because in 1982 when The Theory of the Information Age first appeared, the telephone systems that had been used around the world for over 100 years were analog wave transmission systems, with frequency waves carrying the voice transmission through copper wires.  This type of technology does not work with computers that “speak digitally,” which means that they use binary computer code as their “native tongue.” 

So to achieve the “simple” concept put forth by The Theory of the Information Age, all of the world’s networks had to be rebuilt into digital systems so that computers could “speak” to one another.  Not everyone wanted to spend that kind of money, and it has taken quite a while to do – 30 years, in fact, and the job is not yet finished.

A second reason people have had a hard time getting their minds wrapped around the concept of the Information Age is because it is also the result of many different types of inventions being combined that has enabled the Information Age to come into being.  Many highly creative and talented people have played a role in the evolution of the Information Age, which was essentially “crystallized” by The Theory of the Information Age.

For example, the inventions of the transistor, the laser, the microchip, optical fiber, digital transmission, the cellular telephone, the personal computer (PC), modern computer operating systems, digital telephone switching machines to route calls, data packet transmission, the Web browser, the WorldWideWeb, and many other technological breakthroughs – some of which won Nobel Prizes – have all played important roles.

The change that took place with The Theory of the Information Age was that all of these remarkable human inventions were brought together and turned into a completely new communications platform for human beings. Through the Theory’s acceptance and implementation – which required that all of the world’s telecommunications networks be rebuilt from scratch as all-digital systems as the only means to bring the Information Age into being – computers and people can now connect anytime, anywhere.  And our lives have changed almost completely as a result.

As we now know in our daily lives, the whole of the Information Age – and all the amazing applications now possible, and which we are already taking for granted – is far greater than the sum of its remarkable parts.  The world has grown many times smaller through the ability for instantaneous communications across the world at the speed of light.  And the sophistication continues to grow at lightning speed.

It's also important to note is that there is now no turning back.  The Information Age is rapidly pushing the Industrial Age into the past.  In only three decades, we have arrived at a spot where the Information Age is changing almost everything about our lives. 

That is why it is now IMPERATIVE for human beings to wrap their minds around the idea of the Information Age, to accept it as a true new age, and to plan our way into it, if we want to get the very best from the opportunity that is now ours.

Below is The Theory of the Information Age.  Can you now understand why a concept that could be stated so simply has had and continues to have such power?  Those few paragraphs, expressed in Plain English, have revolutionized the world – the world in which everyone on this planet lives – for that idea has created a true new age, and we are all privileged to see it arrive and to experience its benefits.

It is now up to us – that means on an individual basis that it is up to YOU – to make theinfoagebrown best of that new age, and to see that everyone on this planet is a beneficiary of the new human opportunity called the Information Age. 

The Theory of the Information Age

The Information Age is a true new age based upon the interconnection of computers via telecommunications, with these information systems operating on both a real-time and as-needed basis.

Furthermore, the primary factors driving this new age forward are convenience and user-friendliness, which, in turn, will create user dependence.

User dependence is what will ensure the full implementation of the technological platform that will become the foundation for a new economy, and dependence upon information systems is what will eventually distinguish the Information Age from the Industrial Age in the same manner that reliance upon mass production manufacturing techniques distinguished the Industrial Age from Agrarian Society.

James R. Messenger, American Telephone & Telegraph Company, December 12, 1982

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