June 26, 2007
History unfolds according to an helix. Pick an appropriate perspective and it repeats itself in an eternal return. Sample it at the right intervals and it displays a dazzling progress. Most fascinating is to disentangle this apparent contradiction.
The present Information Revolution offers a good example. Take how Google changes the hiring process, as illustrated by a recent column from Lucy Kellaway (*). Because Google puts the world's archive at one's fingertips, it enables everyone to play detective. Once only critical positions used to justify what was an expensive vetting process. Nowadays no documented worker should be hired without a Google search, lest he or she prove to be a yahoo or worse.
That's progress. Whether to attach a positive connotation to the term is moot. At least things have changed. The context however is one of uncovering the truth. And I challenge any reader to prove Internet has brought humanity closer to the truth. Only fools takes what they see on the Internet at face value. The more it changes, the more it is the same.
The real impact of the Information Age is on the relation between Truth and Time and our ability to play a part if we are so inclined.
First it is far easier to make and propagate prophecies. Motoko Rich tells us how "spoilers" anticipate the imminent release of the last Harry Potter book (**)(***). Modern marketing increases both the spike in interest brought by an initial release and the ability to sabotage it up to the last minute through insider information, real or fake, prompted by popular demand.
Second it increases the effectiveness of damaging rumors. John Mccain's site was hacked into and self-slandering words attributed to the candidate. Since the timing of the attack was not critical, Charles P. Pierce was able to pen an extended column a week ago partially at the expense of other leading US Presidential candidates (****). Behind the humor, the warning is clear. Well-timed misrepresentations can change history, as Bismark knew (1) and Google wants to ignore. To respond, constant alertness is needed and time is evermore of the essence.
Last it turns us all into historians. Unfortunately not the high flying synthesizer who brings sense out of chaos, but the lowly archive digger who ploughs through countless moldy records to ascertain one small fact. The Information Age simply creates so much information, finding the truth has never been more time consuming despite the increase in volunteers.
"Lucy Kellaway" Googled herself. I bet she barely scratched the 428,000 references returned. Were the Queen to knight her, Yochai Benkler will say enough curious minds would quickly probe all references for proof of her underhanded support in favor of Gordon Brown. But fame brings as much protection as danger. "Hillary Clinton"'s 11,400,000 Google citations may discourage even the most resolute dirt digging militia.
While John Thornhill comments on the official split between Hollande and his partner in the aftermath of her failed attempt to become French President (*****), one can in hindsight admire Arnaud de Montebourg's spoiling prophecy, who six months ago highlighted Mr Hollande as "the" problem of Ms Royal. Truth does come out from time to time, mostly it lies undisturbed, buried in repetitious drivel under layers of slick untruths.
- (*) .......... Google will make recruits less frugal with the truth, by Lucy Kellaway (Financial Times) - June 17, 2007
- (**) ....... Is This The Last of Harry, On the Web, by Motoko Rich (New-York Times) - June 22, 2007
- (***) ..... Defenders of Secrets, Unite! , by Motoko Rich (New-York Times) - June 26, 2007
- (****) ... Mud In the Digital Age, by Charles P. Pierce (Boston Globe) - June 17, 2007
- (*****) . France's press sharpens its claws for a Royal drama, by John Thornhill (Financial Times) - June 24, 2007
- (1) see the Ems telegram