virgin islands scene

Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.
-- Soren Kierkegaard


Saturday, March 2, 1996

The Age of the Individual

Many are calling this the Digital Age or the Information Age. It seems that most of the revolutionary advances of mankind are remembered in terms of their technology.

Technology certainly plays a big part in what is happening right now. In fact, the technology is becoming so sophisticated that it is beginning to become transparent. Take the World Wide Web, for example. It has become so popular precisely because sophisticated browser software has made it so easy to navigate. A five year old child can easily find her way around on the Web. There are no complicated commands to learn, just point and click.

This is happening everywhere. Think about using an ATM machine to get cash. You simply put your card in, enter your PIN code, and get your cash. Do you realize that you’ve just transferred funds over a complex electronic network? That’s quite an accomplishment, technically. Yet just about anyone can do it.

So, although the technology is the enabler, it is not the issue. It has become so sophisticated that we often don’t even have to think about it. The net result of all this is power to the individual. Think about it. Things like the World Wide Web give the individual power and reach that he/she could not have dreamed of even five years ago. With the Web, anyone can have access to any kind of information they want. With the Web, anyone can become a publisher and can succeed or fail based on the quality of their work, not on the depth of their pockets.

Think of how many “unpublished” authors there are -- people who fill publishers offices with their manuscripts. Before the Web, publishing resources were limited. It costs money for typesetting, printing plates, printing presses, ink, paper, binding, shipping, warehousing and retailing books. But none of those things are necessary when publishing on the Web. Just a $2,000 computer and a $20 a month Internet account will do. Suddenly anyone can become published. Just think of how many concepts and ideas that never would have seen the light of day, that will spring to life on the Web.

It is truly the age of the individual. People are being freed from the constraints of a centralized, homogenized society. More and more of us are able to live where we want, work when we want, and say what we want. We are free to follow our own individual paths, and contribute to the world in our own unique ways. Both personally and collectively, that is an incredible development.

With this increasing power comes increasing responsibility. In tomorrow’s column, I’ll discuss the aspects of that responsibility.

— Ralph Marston

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