Savir's Corner: Information revolution and civil society
After Guttenberg print revolution, information, mainly through newspapers, books, became widely distributed, people more informed.
online news Photo: Thinkstock/Imagebank
After the Guttenberg print revolution, information, mainly through newspapers
and books, became widely distributed, people were more informed and better
educated and fundamental social changes occurred, with political and industrial
revolution following suit.
A similar and possibly no less dramatic
process is occurring with the information revolution, fueled by the
technological revolution, since the end of the previous century.
the end of 19th century, an edition of The Times of London could be distributed
in several thousands of copies for a population of eight million, in today’s
world any individual, in virtually any part of the world, can post a short video
on YouTube. This can be on any possible topic, from a baby crawling on the floor
to an athlete breaking records, and there is always the possibility that
millions, and perhaps tens of millions will view it.
In today’s world,
there is an information glut that serves people’s know-how, understanding,
education and communication, as well as their ability to share values, interests
and activities and possibly to effect change. I believe that we live in a
fundamentally revolutionary era, still too little comprehended – in terms of the
phenomenon itself and chiefly regarding its social, economic and political
ramifications. Fundamental social change is occurring in all corners of the
world, including the Middle East and North Africa. The attempt to understand its
background, its motion and its possible results and how they can be influenced,
The Internet covers almost 50 percent of the world’s
population today. This leads to more information, more communication and the
empowerment of people and their ability to effect change.
carry with them dangers as well as opportunities. As to the dangers, many argue
that the endless flow of information is creating an anarchic world that is
almost impossible to govern and that ultimately may lead to chaos, violence and
conflict. Others argue that the information revolution serves mostly the wealthy
champions of industry, as they have greater capacity to profit from new
information available, intruding into the private domain and creating a new
global customer base. In the developing world there are those who are concerned
by the process, viewing it as a Western culture of domination through economic
interests and the icons of globalization such as Coca-Cola and
There is some value to all these arguments, but the
information revolution also gives rise to powerful opportunity.
process of globalization has been dramatically furthered. The globalization of
information may be more important than the globalization of commerce, as it
affects more profoundly people’s thoughts. The penetration of the Internet is
transforming the world. Today almost every second person uses the Internet,
including 86% of the United States, 63% of Europe and 37% of the Middle East – a
growth of some 530% in a decade. We are nearing an era in which the majority of
almost 10 billion people will be able to communicate and interconnect with one
another. This creates new opportunities to create global communities of shared
interests and values.
2. Parallel to this process there is also a change
for the individual, related to how people get to know each other. The “other,”
the “distant,” the “incomprehensible,” are suddenly much closer – and to
everyone’s surprise, not that different.
Knowing, sharing information and
communicating with others has made the perception of the “other” much more
human. This has potential for contributing to greater tolerance. Facebook, with
an enormous community of almost one billion users the world over, has had an
important impact on these processes. Due to the “Zuckerberg Revolution,” people
everywhere are contributing to the creation of a more transparent world. Sharing
personal information on their Facebook timelines, making Facebook friends across
borders and creating communities of similar interests and values in order to
effect change in their favor are all a part of this phenomenon.
multi-culturalization of the world. As literature, film, music and all aspects
of arts, entertainment and sports are shared world-wide, greater cultural
understanding is produced – from African music to Madonna, and from Japanese
sumo wrestling to Argentine soccer.
4. The globalization of education due
to the use of the Internet. The classroom has moved to a large degree to the
playroom, where young minds profit from educational software. This is very true
for higher education as well, where millions of students are reached through
distance learning. In the not-too-distant future, the university classroom in
many institutions around the world will grow from less than 100 students to more
than 100,000, as exemplified by the Stanford University courses on Udacity and
the Coursera technological platform, wherein people the world over are privy to
the best higher education available.
COMBINED, THESE new opportunities
create the true great opportunity of the information revolution, despite its
dangers and flaws: the opportunity to create social change. We have witnessed
the manifestations of social justice movements across the globe, from Occupy
Wall Street to the French “Time of Outrage” movement to Israel’s protests last
summer. We have witnessed this much more dramatically with the Arab Spring, in
which young, informed people communicated, mobilized and toppled four dictators
thus far in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, with Syria next in
These transformations are not all for the good, but they hold
tremendous opportunity for positive change as governments, inflated
bureaucracies and even armies have become less relevant. To create these
opportunities for positive social change, we have to not only understand the
processes outlined here, but also to attempt to channel them toward greater
democracy, socio-economic development and equality, and peaceful
The processes that result from the information revolution
cannot be governed. They emanate from people, for people, and governments – even
totalitarian ones – find it hard to stand in their way. As these are social
processes, they have to be contended with by society itself, in the form of
civil society – the vast network of nongovernmental organizations that are based
chiefly on the values and the power of the citizen.
Civil societies and
their NGOs can contribute to greater local and global communication between
communities that share values, furthering the creation of a common language
within societies and between them; greater multicultural interaction; and
greater empowerment of youth and women.
The globalization of education
should have a large part in this process.
It is true that these processes
may at times be hijacked by forces with negative social intentions, specifically
religious ones. But if civil society and young new leaders are alert enough to
the results of the information revolution, they can channel these opportunities
toward positive social change locally and internationally.
aftermath of the Arab Spring, it is to be hoped that with time, maybe even a lot
of time, elements of civil society in our region will ride the wave of the
powerful information revolution, furthering social justice, democracy and peace.
This should be true not just for the Middle East but for Israel specifically as
well. It is for our vibrant civil society to channel the communication and
education process in which young Israelis are so involved, away from traditional
political interests of a static, self-serving and inflated establishment, into a
dynamic cross-border process in favor of greater social justice, more liberal
and democratic values, and peaceful coexistence based on equality.
information revolution provides us with this opportunity.
The writer is
president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator
for the Oslo Accords.