From a man of letters
27 February 1994
President Bill Clinton
The White House
Dear Mr Clinton,
It is Sunday morning, the time of each week I allow for relaxing and writing to anyone who seems an appropriate recipient of my thoughts and feelings about almost anything. Who am I, though? Nobody, is the simple answer to that one.
The one ideal we might have in common, however, is the one of promoting the global communications village, and the tenor of this letter is one of encouraging you in your initiative to entice investment into this field. Oh sure, any company spotting a market for its communications and information technologies will need little encouragement to pursue the profits, but it is also true that companies take reassurance from central initiatives.
Certainly, Mr Bill Gates and our own Dr Jonathon Waldern - to name only two prominent individuals - give a voice to the visions of many and anything the rest of us have to add appears as little more than received knowledge. Even so, I am sure you will agree that we should not content ourselves with allowing others to do our thinking and speaking for us.
Where, then, will our new technologies lead us and how should we best deploy them? Certainly it will be tempting to many an administration to exert control over the flow of knowledge and information. Perhaps, though, the former Soviet Union found itself capitulating to the forces of enlightenment, almost becoming embarrassed at its futile efforts to spread misinformation and restrict the flow of knowledge, received or otherwise. The real problems for the communication revolution, however, will lie in the logistics of building the infrastructure for one thing, and in overcoming the irrational fear of technology itself for another.
In spite of these obstacles, the notion of, say, a farming community in a developing nation being able to log into the global market place, tendering or quoting for the supply of produce before it has even been planted is an interesting one. So, too, is the prospective opportunity for exchanging ideas and culture at the individual, human level.
This is no naive ideal: the technological power base would largely remain with the developed nations for where, in this scenario, would the developing nation buy the bio-engineered crop stock with which to meet those tenders and contracts? All right, a simple analogy perhaps, but one small example of where global communications and information processing will take us - the more efficient use of land and resources.
The market penetration of personal computers and telecommunications hardware has only just begun, but more and more people like me are overcoming their fear of the machines and discovering the enormous benefits they offer. The popular conception - in Britain, anyway - is that we will render ourselves subservient to the technology which, instinctively, we feel ought to be serving us. Experience shows me that the opposite is true, especially now that the more powerful user interfaces once on the horizon are drawing nearer. The other facet of the resistance of the market is the belief that cultural identity will be lost in the melding of ideas. Nonsense, of course; every nation on Earth comprises influences from a host of cultures, Britain being a fine example of Nordic, Celtic, Roman and French ingredients - not to mention the Asian and African contributions.
No, it's not the change we ought to fear but the pace and manner of its occurrence. If the former Soviet Union had not so readily relinquished its influence over Yugoslavia after the death of Tito we might have been able to witness a more structured and peaceful devolution of its member states instead of the appalling and wasteful scenario we are now experiencing.
Oh well, I must apologise for rambling a little. You have many things to do, no doubt; I just hope that this gives you a small chuckle over your morning coffee. Next Sunday, I might write to another but more humble stranger, picked at random in the hope of exchanging even the smallest of ideas with someone else. Gosh, just think how much more communicative I shall become when I buy my fax modem later this year.