March 23, 2005

Musings on the Digital Future

I just returned from a fascinating lecture on the knowledge economy by Dr. Ismail Serageldin, the director of the new Biblioteca Alexandrina in Egypt, followed by a panel discussion. Some of the comments Dr. Serageldin and the other panelists made that really struck me:

> Probably nothing groundbreaking here, but I really liked the way Serageldin summarized the role of libraries: Libraries "provide access to the common heritage of humanity." Among their major purposes are to "spread the values of rationality, tolerance, diversity, and scientific outlook."

> Serageldin commented on how technology has influenced the way we judge the value of a work. Traditionally, a work has been valued for its self-sufficiency, by how it "hangs together as a whole." In the future, he believes, they will be judged more on how they interlink with other works. More value will be place on the density of hyperlinks.

> Information technology is often touted for its ability to promote democracy by providing more universal access to information. One of the panelists pointed out that we need to draw a distinction between the democratization of opinion and the democratization of knowledge. The Internet has been very successful the former, via tools like blogs. Many would say there has been less success in the latter area.

> At numerous points in his speech, Serageldin discussed the challenges and costs of bringing technology -- and the knowledge and information it conveys -- to people in less developed (i.e. poorer) countries. He mentioned the amount it costs per week for the U.S. to occupy Iraq (don't remember the exact figure, but it was a lot). As we all know, there is no democracy without free flow of information. The amount of connectivity that could be purchased with the money it costs to occupy Iraq for just one week would do more to win the hearts and minds of its citizens than anything the military could accomplish. I wish I could remember exactly how he said it -- he was very eloquent. I'm sure others have made a similar point, but I found him very convincing, probably in part because he was so succinct. It was just an aside, really.

It was too bad the attendance was so disappointing. There were probably only about 40 people there, and the lecture hall was maybe one quarter full. I can't believe there wasn't more interest in the speaker and the topic from the University community, so I can only assume it was poor publicity or the rather cumbersome registration process which was required, even though it was a free lecture.

Posted by ldfs at March 23, 2005 1:19 PM