Society on the Superhighway
Brian J. PERRY, O.B.E., D. Tech. 1)
Former Director, British Library Research and Development Department
1) "Heiwa" 10 Crossingfields Drive, Exmouth, Devon EX8 3LP, U.K. Fax: +44-1395-266448. The paper was delivered at the University of Tokyo Library on Friday October 22nd, and at the Kyoto University Library on Monday October 25th, 1999.
Libraries and Information Services
Changes in Working Habits
In the early 1960's, the Canadian academic Marshall McLuhan predicted that the combination of mass media and communications would produce the "Global Village" where cultural barriers would be swept aside and communication would be world-wide. Incidentally, he also coined the phrase 'the medium is the message' - meaning that the form, rather than the content, of information had become crucial.
In the late 1960's and early 1970's, we saw the first steps toward the Information Age, with a rapid growth in the development of Information Technology (or IT) - the confluence of microprocessing and telecommunications that enabled the rapid processing and distribution of information - this was well established by the early 1980's. IT combined with the increasing availability of digitised information in vast amounts formed the enablers of the information revolution, but the greatest impetus was the opening-up of the Internet for general public access at the end of the 1980's. This "network of networks" that was based on the US Department of Defence's Arpanet has since grown in size and coverage with a rapidity that would probably have surprised even Marshall McLuhan. In 1971 Arpanet linked just twenty-three "host" computers in a dozen US cities. By 1973, the first two foreign sites (in London and Oslo) joined. By 1995, the Internet was a global facility with over a million host computers all over the world and, by now, there are probably two million host computers. The creation within the Internet of the World Wide Web ("the Web") was the development most responsible for the rapid growth in the use of the Net's facilities. The Web, of course, allows the creation of "websites" at which messages may be left and "hyperlinks" that enable interconnections between data on one site to related data on others. In January of this year there were 43.2 million websites on the Net, an increase of 46% over one year.
A report from the US Department of Commerce last year indicated how fast the use of the Internet has developed - it took 38 years for the radio to claim 50 million users in the US, 13 years for TV to gain the same numbers but only 4 years for the Internet. In 1994, there were 4 million users of the Internet world wide but in 1998 this had risen to 100 million. Estimates are that the use of the Internet doubles every 100 days and that, in the USA, the so-called "digital economy" (computers, consumer electronics, telecommunications, software and the Internet) is growing at double the rate of the overall economy, represents more than 8 per cent of the US gross domestic product and since 1993 has been responsible for more than a quarter of the real economic growth.
The United States of America has a population of approximately 275 million, spread over about 100 million households. Of this population, about 60 million use the Internet, about 30 million surf the Internet everyday and about 40 million check their e-mail everyday. The figures are rather lower as percentages in Western Europe (which has about 150 million households), except in Finland which has even higher figures than the USA. Interestingly, Finland (perhaps because of its terrain and the scattered nature of its population) also has the largest proportion of mobile phones per head of population.
Gradually, the links that make up the Internet are being upgraded so that they achieve Superhighway status - with high capacity and high speed facilities that enable the efficient transmission of radio and video signals in real time. With such facilities we shall have a Global Society on the Superhighway which can access the Net in a variety of ways. This variety of ways has been further enhanced by the relatively recent introduction of digital TV, which in its upgraded interactive form becomes yet another enabler of the Information Revolution.
The Internet, then, is a pervasive facility that affects practically everything that man does in terms of information processing and use. A recent survey indicated that 82% of web users consider the Internet to be "indispensible". By the end of next year, it has been estimated that the total user population of the Net will be equal to the total population of North America - that is 5 per cent of the total world population. To those of us who are interested in information provision and use, that is, to whom the "message" is more important than the "medium", it is important that we should understand how the Net is affecting and will affect the world we live in and the consequences of these changes so that we can allow for these in planning for the future. I therefore propose to go through some of the activities that are affected by the Internet and to raise some of the consequences of these activities.
Without doubt, the ability to send messages instantly and at relatively low cost to any other computer in the world that is linked to the Internet is the real "killer application" of this facility. The use of e-mail is the one that most quickly appealed to the general computer user and has resulted in a great deal of the increased use of Internet time. The small specialised program that was designed in the late 1960's to allow the use of e-mail must stand as one of the most influential computer programs in the history of computer technology and the ability to use e-mail is still the major reason that most members of the public go online.
Alas, as time has passed, it has become apparent that there is a "downside" to this easy and readily available method of communication. The first aspect of this is the effect on the English language. (I have no idea if the same occurs to the Japanese language but I suspect not) - most e-mailers tend to use the richness of the language sparingly with the same apparent reluctance that was used in sending a telegram. They also use a minimum of punctuation (including capital letters) so that these valuable guides to meaning, where there may be some ambiguity, is lost. Much worse, many e-mailers use the C.C. facility with great pleasure and scatter copies of their correspondence far and wide to a frequently unappreciative audience. Such indiscriminate copying has helped to lead to one aspect of information overload. A recent survey carried out for Pitney Bowes (an office machinery company) showed that individual workers send and receive up to 190 messages a day and that the daily floods of e-mail leave 60% of executives, managers and professionals feeling overwhelmed. Presumably some of this flood is caused by spam (unsolicited junk e-mail) which seems to be on the increase and which has lead the UK to devise methods of allowing potential recipients to register their desire not to receive such communications. In spite of the existence of a fairly well designed "netiquette", some e-mailers seem to lose their sense of good manners and dignity on the Net and "flaming" - the use of e-mail or newsgroup postings for abuse and bad tempered criticism - is becoming wide-spread. The relatively informal mode of e-mail communication has also lead to a breakdown of hierarchical barriers, which may be a good thing, but, at least in the USA, has lead to some senior managers having their systems altered so that they can send out but not receive e-mail!
Another point that e-mailers need to bear in mind is that e-mail messages may be used as evidence in legal cases and care needs to be taken even when sending e-mail on private intranets.
I would suggest that one lesson to be learned from experience with e-mail is that the information specialist should beware of sending too many messages by e-mail to information users - it could get swamped by the mass of other material. Any service that is provided by this method should be short, succinct and to the point. (Incidentally, more research needs doing on the profiling of users interests and the greater use of 'feedback' mechanisms to improve services).
After e-mail, e-commerce has one of the greatest potentials for increased use of the Internet. Basically, e-commerce is about doing the sort of business transactions that we are already used to, but doing them remotely by computer rather than doing them in person or by pen and paper. It therefore covers activities over a broad spectrum from banking to personal shopping. All of these activities could potentially benefit greatly from the facilities of the Information Superhighway, but there needs to be a greater international agreement on what is needed and what standards and safeguards need to be put in place. Many organizations are looking at the problems involved in e-commerce, these include the World Trade Organization, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Asia-Pacific Organisation for Economic Co-operation, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the European Commission - a worthy group of important bodies that demonstrate the importance attached to the potential of e-commerce. E-commerce is already a reality, despite various possible drawbacks and is "up and well" on the Internet, especially in the USA. Recently, the UK Government invited various US specialists to visit the UK and advise on e-commerce. Recent bills that have been introduced, or will be introduced, into Parliament are aimed at making e-commerce easier and include the Electronic Communications Bill which, amongst other provisions sets out a framework for the use of electronic signatures both within business and between government and the citizen. What is important is that it does not allow insistence on the use of electronic signatures, only that such signatures will be an option. Companies will be able to, for instance, post annual reports and receive shareholder votes electronically and government departments and agencies will be able to explore the use of electronic returns and forms, but people will be free to stick to pen and paper.
One of the least popular provisions of the Bill, however, is the powers given to authorities to have access to decryption keys or to the plain text of encrypted documents. This provision is said to be only for the purposes of fighting crime but many civil liberties organizations see it as potentially yet another intrusion into the privacy of the individual.
Despite the continuing need for standards and safeguards e-commerce seems to have an exciting future ahead of it. A survey carried out by the firm KPMG at the end of last year and covering 459 European companies with sales of more than $300 million demonstrated that they believed that 10% of their business would be conducted over the Net by the end of 2002. It is interesting to note that firms in Germany predicted the lowest percentage (5%) and firms in Scandinavia the highest (15%). "Datamonitor", again at the end of last year estimated that by 2002 the European online consumer market will be worth $3.5 billion, compared with an estimated total for the USA of $12.5 billion - an indication that Europe still has far to go in the development of Internet application. However, perhaps as an example of the rapid spread of the use of the Internet, a more recent survey for NOP published at the end of this August claimed that by the end of the year 2000 online spending in the UK alone would rise to £9.5 billion (note that this is still a small proportion of the £194 billion spent last year in the UK shops). A survey by Netsmart of online shoppers isolated 5 major reasons why they used this method of purchase:
One of the main reasons that online shoppers save money is the discounts that are offered, an ancillary reason is that, because the principles of transborder purchases have not been standardised, many online shoppers who buy from abroad do not pay tax or duty on their purchases.
In the UK many business sectors have already identified the threats posed by online competitors and both the travel and bookselling businesses have suffered from the inroads made upon their trading figures by such competitors.
One of the greatest barriers to e-commerce is fear of fraud and a consequent reluctance to provide credit card numbers on the Net. This is true even of Internet veterans - who presumably composed the majority of a survey by "Wired" magazine and Merill Lynch where two thirds of the respondents were reluctant to do so. In a recent Mori poll conducted for Intel, 39% of UK respondents expressed worries about computer fraud compared with a huge 67% of Swedish respondents. Doubtless, the introduction of Visa and Mastercard's Secure Electronic Transaction (SET) mark and other precautions will set people's minds at rest but I have come to the reluctant conclusion that no system is hacker-proof. After all, it is only a year ago that the hacker group LOPHT told the U.S. Senate that they could bring the INTERNET to a standstill in 30 minutes.
Banks and financial services have approached e-commerce with great enthusiasm. This is not surprising when you consider that, for a bank, the cost of a transaction using a staff member is about $2, the same transaction using an ATM (Automated Teller Machine) is 80 cents and on the Internet is costs 30 cents or less. Similar savings are possible for share trading and other financial trading - one reason why online traders charge less commission than those non-online colleagues.
One of the disadvantages of cyberbanking is that it saves the bank so much money that there is a danger that bank customers may well end up having to pay a premium for person to person contact, rather than using online facilities. This situation is likely to develop relatively slowly, however, Barclay's' Bank, which claims to have the UK's largest online banking service has nearly 400,000 online retail customers - about 5% of its customers - and it does not expect this figure to rise to 10% until two years time. However, it also has 25,000 (22%) of its corporate customers online already and this percentage is likely to rise quite quickly.
Banking online seems set to grow, so does retail shopping. The major products sold at present are PC hardware, travel, entertainment, books and music, gifts, flowers and greetings but most supermarkets in the UK are experimenting with cybershopping. For the busy worker, the harassed housewife or the housebound, the ability to order your weekly shopping over the Internet could be a boon, though many people could well miss the pleasures of meeting with other people during the "shopping experience". Other people (myself included) like to examine the individual items that they purchase - this is especially true of fresh fruit and vegetables and such "emotional" items as clothes and pets.
At one extreme, online shopping could have some other side effects. Sooner or later it will be realised that the online shopper can be more efficiently serviced from warehouses rather than using the shops (two supermarket chains in the UK are already experimenting with this method of provision). This could lead to the closure of many of their retail outlets. I, for one, would be glad to see less of the out-of-town shopping malls with their vast parking areas and polluting cars. However, I would be very sorry if the rush to online shopping also saw the closure of small specialist shops and convenience corner shops.
Online shopping not only changes customer behaviour, it also changes the nature of the business itself. To take as just one example the online bookseller Amazon, which has received the most hype and is still the most successful of online booksellers. Compared with Barnes and Noble, which has only recently gone online, Amazon offers 1 million titles and has annual sales of $240,000 per employee, Barnes and Noble offer 175,000 titles and has annual sales of $100,000 per employee. However, Amazon have an inventory of $17,000,000 whereas Barnes and Noble's inventory is about 50 times that. The success of Amazon is not down to just the technology and the Internet, it is the fact that in redesigning the business they redesigned the modes of operation.
It is easy to overestimate the growth and effects of online shopping. In the first three months of 1999 Amazon, for instance, generated revenues of £183.5 million, but it lost £38 million. In fact, it is unlikely to make a profit for many years. In spite of this, the expectation (and the hype) of the Internet market meant that, in August 1998, Barnes and Noble with a quarter of the US book market was thought to be worth $2.5 billion whereas Amazon with three per cent of that market was valued at $6.4 billion!
Even the most optimistic of surveys and forecasts do not believe that online retailing will overtake traditional retailing in the immediate future. A report from the investments bankers Goldman Sachs, for instance, estimates that 15-20% of the global retail market could ultimately be captured by the Internet. Much of the growth will be in the US, where the top 100 American retailers all have web-sites and 43 of these allow transactions. This compares with the UK where only 43 of the top 100 retailers have web-sites and only 14% allow transactions.
The factors considered to hold back the development of e-commerce in Europe are:
It is interesting to note that in parallel with the growth of shopping via the Internet/Superhighway, at least in the UK, there is a growth of interest in personal shopping and especially in the so-called farmers markets, where farmers sell foods directly to the public at weekly markets (usually in town centres). There is a great interest in the ability to buy fresh, locally grown seasonal food; which in someways conflicts with online shopping. In fact, the future of shopping probably lies in a balance of remote and local shopping and the winners in the battle for online shoppers are likely to be those traditional retailers who go online in the near future, for they have the cash, the stock and the distribution systems which the "newcomers" to retailing are desperately trying to build up. As far as international e-commerce is concerned, much will depend upon what decisions are taken about taxes which I have mentioned earlier. In the UK at present it seems to be very much a hit and miss affair as to whether your purchase online from another country is tax free or taxed twice. New rules for the Internet taxation for the European Union are to be proposed at the end of this year and are likely to be based on the principle of taxation at the "point of consumption". As far as e-commerce is concerned, we may well end up with two different trends in society - the online shoppers and the personal shoppers. It is not unlikely that this will be matched with IT-conscious and IT-disregarding trends.
The Superhighway is bound to have a great effect on the future of education and training. Most of the deliberate digitization of materials with public or quasi-public funds has been concentrated on those that are of value to education or research, either for the purpose of conservation, publication or widespread dissemination. This alone provides a rich database as foundation for online education. Remote learning has been used for many years in the United Kingdom - British Telecom have the "Home Campus" service, for instance, which offers revision and other educational material for secondary school students. A survey last year found that 90% of parents expected that home computing should play an important part in their children's education. BT also has "Campus World" - an area on the Internet that is designed to be used during lessons at school and which is of equal value to students and teachers. There is also a system, (based on videoconferencing technology with high quality images and sound sent along digital phone lines) called Campus Vision that is used to teach young school children in the Western highlands of Scotland which has many very remote villages, where 80% of the schools have fewer than three teachers and children of 12 often share the same classroom literally as children of 5. This system allows them to join their contemporaries at other school for lessons. The British Broadcasting Corporation also has a "Schools Online" service which has revision and other aids included, and is available over the Internet. The Highlands and the Islands University is mainly Internet-based and connects many widely scattered sites (including remote students). As another example, in 1998, the Oxford University announced that it would offer courses on the Internet to students of medicine, computing and history. Dons supervise the part-time students using e-mail, online discussion and voice-based conferencing.
The UK Government has no definite Information Policy but it is very keen to place the UK at the fore in the Information Age and it sees education in Communication and Information Technology and using CIT as a necessary step in achieving this aim. In 1998 it launched the National Grid for Learning, which is intended to allow teachers access to best teaching practice and to allow school pupils to use new technology. There are also areas for schools governors and information on Higher and Further Education. Information is also available on Lifelong Learning and Career Development. Other provisions are links with Libraries and Museums and Galleries.
Provision of computers and computing facilities are, on the whole, quite satisfactory at University and Further Education level, but at the beginning of 1998 there were relatively few schools in the UK connected to the Internet and, indeed, there is only one computer for every 9 pupils in secondary schools and only one for every 18 pupils in primary schools. It is the declared aim of the UK Government to improve this situation and by March of this year approximately 30% (5,500) of primary schools, 90% (3,200) of secondary schools and 45% (520) of special schools in England had some form of Internet access. The Government intends to ensure that all schools in the country will be connected to the Internet by 2002 at the latest. To ensure the provision of sufficient computers in schools, a separate fund of £100 million was established in 1997 to allow purchase of computers and software. Another, private, initiative called "Tools for Schools" augments this fund by recycling redundant computers from industry to schools.
The efficient use of computers in schools requires that the teachers are well versed in CIT skills and most of the cynics amongst us have realised for some time that at least two thirds of the teachers know less about communications and information technology than their students. To redress this situation, the UK Government has set up a £235 million fund to train teachers to make full use of IT investments.
There is no doubt that the Superhighway has great potential to drive change in education at all levels. In nearly all countries of the world either planning or activity is aimed at producing a computer-literate student body. Apart from activities at the school level, Universities and Further Education Institutes are taping, digitizing and transmitting their best lecturers and demonstrations. Combining this with the great digitization projects that are going on the publishing and library world, it is possible to think of huge databases of lectures, lessons, information and data that, with the right software and facilities, could make possible effective remote learning and education. This has the potential of developing education at all levels into dispersed interactive systems that allow the student to access the very best of teachers and of teaching practices from both the home and from local "resource centres". Further, learning programs could be designed to fit the special needs of students with learning difficulties or with genius I.Q's. Under these conditions, the role of the local teachers could be redefined as a coordinator, monitor and facilitator for individual learning. Such an educational system could make the traditional educational institutes redundant. On the other hand, it could ensure that all students at all levels could be provided with optimal education, regardless of their geographical location or class or cultural differences.
Libraries and Information Services
I have already mentioned the massive digitized databases that are being built up by publishers and libraries and there is little doubt that libraries and information services are one of the areas that have been greatly transformed by the development of the Information Superhighway. Huge amounts of data and printed material have been digitized and currently most printed material is produced via digitization processes so that, each day, the proportion of material that is available or potentially available for access over the Internet increases. Still, of course, we must hear in mind that the majority of material is not in digitized form but this balance is bound to alter as time goes on. Already, much of the material required by researchers and scholars is available on-line (though, alas, sometimes at a rather excessive price).
Libraries and Information Services form a valuable, if not essential, resource for Educational Services (as I have indicated above) and this has been recognised by the majority of the world's governments. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the Library and Information Commission in 1997 put forward plans to wire up all the UK's 4,000 public libraries to the Internet at a cost of £120 million (in 1997, only 6% of the libraries had such links, compared with 45% in the USA). Last year, the Government announced that about £6 million would be used to finance "pathfinder" projects in selected libraries to demonstrate the potential of networking and set aside £70 million for the years 1998-2001, £59 million of which is being spent on digitizing material to support "lifelong learning and education in its broadest sense" - demonstrating both the government's commitment to these activities and the importance of libraries to them.
As with school teachers, it was recognised that libraries needed a boost to their IT appreciation and skills and £20 million is being spent on training.
Libraries, especially public libraries, have a great potential for providing access to the Internet for these citizens who otherwise have no facilities to use the new communication and information resources. After all, in spite of the impression that the use of public libraries is dropping, a recent survey in Britain showed that 63% of adults used libraries for a variety of purposes and that these users were spread more or less evenly across age and social groups. A Gallop Poll commissioned last year by the American library Association showed that, even in high-tec America, two thirds of the population have a library card and that 64% visited a library at least once in 1997 (compared with 51% in 1978), one in ten visited a library more than 25 times in a twelve month period. Perhaps not surprisingly, 17% of the US library users went to connect to the Internet, but even so 81% went to take out books.
Books still are, and will remain, important in the Information Era. However, there is a danger that public funding will concentrate on access to digital materials and this could lead to a trend where public libraries are reduced to being a series of public access terminals in kiosks situated in the High Street and in Supermarkets (if these have not already disappeared). Other recent suggestions for public access to the Internet that have been made in the UK include ATM's, photo booths and petrol pumps. We must not forget that public libraries are not just sources of information and book loans. They have a strong social function in being a gathering place and resource for the elderly, the unemployed and for school children who have no other place to do their homework. There have been very few attempts to place a value on this social benefit or an the value of librarians who act as reading instructors, social workers, information officers and cultural facilitators; but these values should not be underestimated.
Changes in Working Habits
With its rapid communication potential and infinite capacity for efficient multi-media transmission, it is very likely that the Superhighway will accelerate the already growing tendency to teleworking (i.e. working at home rather than in an office), It is not surprising that large organisations find teleworking attractive - current UK estimates indicate that to set up a member of staff to work at home costs between 2 and 4 thousand pounds in equipment, software, communications and support but that there is then an average saving of up to £10,000 per staff member working at home rather than on company premises. Apart from these particular savings, there are other advantages - the ability of the worker to set their own working hours and the lack of interruptions which allows for more productive working hours. In fact, studies have indicated that teleworkers actually work harder and longer than their colleagues in the office and to much greater effect.
Even as early as 1995 the computer firm DEC had one quarter of its staff as flexible workers who used a mixture of specially designed teleworking centres, their homes and their cars to do work. This saved the company about £20 million a year. Office work especially lends itself to teleworking - a survey carried out by Pagoda Associates of 100 leading UK institutions revealed that 80% of the average officer worker's tasks were done alone at a desk and could therefore be carried out anywhere. A poll published last year by the survey firm Mori found that more than 5 per cent of the working population (some 1.3 million people) spent at least part of their working week at home - an increase of 300,000 over the previous year. Estimates of the proportion of non-manual jobs that could be carried out by teleworking vary from 25 per cent to 50 per cent. In the "knowledge worker" sector, especially the financial businesses, telecommunications, marketing, sales and media, nearly one in three are either teleworking or will do so soon. There are beneficial side effects from teleworking apart from the obvious financial ones. The most obvious one is the decrease in time spent each day on commuting - in the UK, the average worker spends 50 minutes each day on travelling to and from work. For workers in London, this figure goes up to 2 hours. Many commute by car and teleworking could lead to a great decrease in pollution from cars.
One example of social benefits to be gained from teleworking is in a survey carried out on the future needs of a major motorway - the M25 - in the London area. Works to deal with predicted traffic volumes on the M25 have been estimated to cost more than £1,450 million by the year 2007. One the other hand the cost of creating teleworking centres for the commuters involved would cost £450 million. There could therefore be a financial saving of £1 billion and a saving, too, of large tracts of prime countryside. On the other hand, large decreases in commuting could mean that some bus and rail routes could become uneconomic and they could be scrapped - this could be especially detrimental to some rural communities.
Apart from the effects on transport systems, there are other potential disadvantages to teleworking. Not least is the shift effect on the economies of regions. For example, everyday the largest number of commuters in Europe travel in and out of London. They contribute (both directly and indirectly) £24 billion a year to the Metropolitan region and any major decrease in their numbers could have great economic consequences. More direct negative factors to be taken into consideration with teleworking is that there is little personal contact with colleagues - and much useful progress comes from discussion and "roundtabling". There is also the danger of interruptions from the family and domestic telephone calls. More importantly for some people is the fact that with your office in the home there is "nowhere to hide" from work.
I have covered five areas where the Information Superhighway does and will affect the way Society does things. These areas are:
These five were selected from a personal list of over 100 areas affected by the Superhighway and I selected them deliberately to show that there are side-effects, beneficial or otherwise, from almost every use of this facility. For effect, I have exaggerated some of my extrapolations and could possibly be accused of showing that a logical conclusion leads to absurdity thereby providing disproof! (redctio ad absurdum as the ancient philosophers would have it). I would now like to touch on what we know about the users and use of the Internet for information provision.
I must admit that it is very easy to get statistics on users and use and projections of these, but notoriously difficult to validate them mainly because of the hyperbole progated by "netophiles" and the very small size of some samples. (Indeed, I have a personal research project where I am examining a series of surveys and predictions made about the use of the net over the past 3 years and comparing them with reality).
As with all great gifts, the Information Superhighway has its good side and its bad side. In the early 90's, it was a "free spirit" in many meanings of the phrase. Now, the general impression frequently, is that IT requires control and regulation. (It is interesting to note that 37% of Americans believe that the Internet should be regulated, compared with 70% of Germans). It has enabled the oppressed to publicise their plight, and to open their eyes to greater potentials but also the psychotic to express and communicate their hatred and their bigotism. It has enabled the free flow of information but it has also enabled the spread of massive doses of pornography. It has enabled communication between geographically separated people of all races with others with the same interests but it has enabled ill-minded people to organise riots against authority. It has allowed (at least on the surface) anonymity of respondents but, with electronic traces and the bringing together of small discrete databases it allows for greater invasion of individual privacy than at any time since the religious inquisitions of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. We have a saying in England that "the sun, the rain and the wind make fine servants but bad masters" and I think that this could also be said of the Internet and the Information Superhighway.
I am certain that proper use of the Superhighway can only be of benefit to society and that the Information Profession can make significant contributions to ensure that this proper use is established and maintained. Who else, but the ultimate users of information, are as well qualified to talk about the content of information carriers as are the Information Professionals?
Some implication for the Information Profession came to mind immediately. A fair proportion of the users of information will be computer literate and used to making their own information requests on the Internet - either with the result that they frequently receive more information than they need - added to the information overload that they already suffer from in the normal process of working - or with the result that (because of bad indexing or none) they receive too little or nothing. Here the Information Professional has strong roles in acting as an intermediary and as a filter for the user and representing the results in an orderly and relevant manner. They can also demonstrate that their own information sources (always superbly organised, of course!) are superior to the vast resources, but usually badly organised, that are available on the Internet. They can also assist in reorganising the material on the Net that needs their skills and talents.
That there is inequality on the net is unquestionable. Statistics of use show great and rapid growth. Internet Magazine, for instance, gives the numbers of users of the Internet in the UK as
The simplicity of these figures seems to me to be a little slick but it is probably a reasonable estimate "of the order of". I said earlier that one estimate predicts, that by the end of year 2000, 5% of the world's population will be connected to the Net. This is a very respectable figure but against this we must balance the fact that 80% of the world's population have never used a telephone, let alone sent an e-mail message. The USA has more computers than the rest of the world combined and four fifths of the world's websites are in English but only 8% of the world's population has English as its native language. As a United Nations report published 3 months ago pointed out "The typical net user is male, under 35, with a University education and high income, urban based and English speaking - a member of a very elite minority". The industrialised countries, with only 15% of the world's population has 88% of all Net users, whereas South Asia, home to a fifth of the total population has less than 1% online.
This is indeed inequality and leads to a great division of people globally between the Information Rich and the Information Poor. Such a division has always been with us but the coming of the Information Age and the increasing use of electronic communication is bound to exacerbate this condition. This will be especially so if organisations wish to take advantage of the cheapness of electronic distribution rather than distribution in print and use electronic means exclusively, thus excluding those not on the Net from the information provided. The Information Profession will need to give thought as to how such people can be served with the information that they need. Incidentally, and related to this problem, little is really know about what information the ''ordinary citizen" needs in his daily life and how this is best provided - another area of research for the Profession. The division is not just between countries but is also between people in the same country. In my own country the disadvantaged and the disabled have to make great efforts to maintain information parity with their more fortunate bretheren. The same is true of the unemployed, many of whom cannot afford to maintain a personal computer, even if they could afford to have one in the first place.
One British academic - Professor Ian Angel of the London School of Economics - has expressed so much worry about the Information Poor that he has dubbed the Information Age as the "Age of Rage". He has postulated that a new elite will be formed of about 10% of the population who will be skilled "knowledge workers" who will be interconnected with the full resources of teleworking technology at their command. Because of their skills they will be much sought-after and pampered. On the other side there will be ever-growing numbers of unskilled underclasses who will be deprived of information and whose feelings of helplessness will lead to civil unrest. I doubt that things will become this desperate but have no doubt that Information Poverty could act as a great barrier both to personal development and to the healthy development of countries.
The Information Profession, as experts in the provision of information and in information put to use, has a role here in ensuring that information is freely provided to people as they need it regardless of their social or economic situation. I would go further and claim that it is time that the Profession organised itself more effectively in a global manner to act as an efficient pressure group to ensure that governments are well aware of the need for effective Information Policies both nationally and internationally and that such decisions are not just made on the basis of economic expediency. It is my belief that the Information Profession should have a voice as effective as that of the Information Technology World - perhaps with an even more caring spirit.