A Choir of New Voices

Think of this for a moment:
Everything you know–your science, your technology, your popular art and culture, and your politics–are the result of thousands of years of technological failure. That failure? The fact that only a few people could read and write and communicate. Books were expensive to produce and own, so only a relative few could afford them. People who couldn’t read and write couldn’t send letters. And the same thing holds true with all modes of communication and culture–radio, film, telegraph, phone, email, video conference, etc. Only a few people could be in the know, so only a few people could have ideas that affected everything.

The world was organized around that basic fact. There was nothing anyone could do to change it, so they did as best they could. Monarchy, representative democracy, election cycles, corporate conglomorates, distribution networks–all of them exist in the forms they do (or did) because they were the best ways anyone could think of to overcome the difficulty presented by the fact that not everybody could read, write, travel, and communicate.

But this post isn’t about power. At least, not in that sense. Political power comes and goes, and changes hands, based on the contingencies of history.

Instead, this post is about power. The power to change history, remake how people think, create technologies that change what it means to be human. Two hundred years ago, only the aristocracy could have those ideas–they were the only ones who knew enough to have the raw intellectual materials hanging around. One hundred years ago, only the educated could have those ideas, and only ten percent of the people in the world were educated. Twenty years ago, the situation was still pretty much the same, although more people were educated.

Every institution you know, everything you grew up with, was built by a tiny tiny minority to cope with the problems of a world filled with uneducated people. Not unintelligent people, just people without access to information and communication.

And that world, increasingly, does not exist. As the final 2/3rds of the human race comes online, with the communications and information and immediacy at their fingertips that, thirty years ago, was only available to the five most powerful people on the planet, the entire world we take for granted is changing under our feet.

In the next twenty years, the human race will finally be a conversation in which everyone can participate. If one-to-ten percent brought us horrors like the holocaust and wonders like genetic engineering…
…what will all that new creativity bring?

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