B  U  L  L  E  T  I  N

of the American Society for Information Science and Technology       Vol. 31, No. 4    April/May 2005

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Global Plaza in the Classroom

by Anthony Ross

Anthony Ross is a research assistant in the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto. He can be reached by email at anthony.ross@utoronto.ca

While an information studies student at the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto, I took a course that dealt with information and culture in a global context, in which we were introduced to the Global Information Village Plaza. It made sense given the nature of the course, and one assignment in particular required us to prepare a position statement about our thoughts on the much-hyped information society and its implications for us as individuals and professionals. In doing so, I quickly realized that there was a lot more going on in the information world than was evident to me in the course of my day-to-day studies or at the reference desk where I worked part-time. Just because at school and at work I did not necessarily feel like a part of the “global community” did not mean that community, and all it entails, was not there. It made me realize that there were larger, more sweeping issues at hand that did not necessarily affect me in an immediate or intimate way. However, these issues and ideas stayed with me and continued to spur me to think about the role of information professionals in society and in the world and to consider why forums and dialogue (such as the Global Plaza) are important to any development of a real global information society. That experience made me think about answers to questions that I had never been asked; some questions that I did not even know existed. I think it is important that we as information professionals continue to ask those questions and think seriously about the answers.

            The globalization of information and the continued burgeoning of the “information society” bring with them a complex array of implications and effects that are, in and of themselves, difficult to grasp. And beyond theorizing about what is going on in the information world on a global scale and what might happen tomorrow or next year, practicing information professionals still have to go about their days and do their jobs. To me the “global information society” certainly does exist in some form, but not simply because we have named it so. Just because the world is more connected in some way does not necessarily make it a community, a society.

            We have to be careful of the potential to create in theory something that is not there in reality. The hurdles to the creation of a true global information society are the same hurdles that could stand in the way of any global dynamic. Regardless of connectivity or access, people still belong to different cultures, speak different languages and view the world in different ways. Technology does not necessarily recognize such differences. Furthermore, if we are to talk about a global community of any kind, we had better make sure that it is in fact global. A large part of the world is still not able or capable of making a phone call, let alone engaging in international collaboration using ICTs. I think we will miss an opportunity if we allow the notion of the global information society to follow along the North American business model and the ongoing trends toward media ownership concentration. As participants in our own information communities, based in areas of knowledge and geography, we have to contribute in our own way to the ever-widening information commons that many of us have access to.

            Perhaps this contribution requires of us and our organizations and professional societies a new perspective and a broader context in which to view ourselves. If organizations and associations actively look beyond their own borders into truly international information waters then perhaps the effects would filter down to their individual members. We all micro-manage our own information worlds as it suits us and as we require, but it is sometimes difficult to see the bigger picture, and our professional organizations should help to situate our information contexts.

            Collectively and individually, the potential for a global information community offers the opportunity for social change and involvement. With more resources and connections available to us now than ever before, we have a chance to contribute to a sort of global information commons, assuming we want to and that we understand what we are doing. Conversely, the globalization of information could be viewed as simply a bigger pool of resources from which we can take what we need without much regard for giving back. These questions are subjective and involve our personal and professional ethics and philosophies. It would be naďve, however, not to consider the fact that the information society is still an exclusive one, and how the information science and technology community addresses that fact will certainly affect the shape of things to come.

            In considering the global information society, I think it is important to remember that what appears to many of us to be “global” is in fact just a portion of what is out there. It is a representation of those countries or communities that have the access and the ability to be a part of the information dynamic. In the (at times) overwhelming information environment in which we live, it is easy to forget some of the disparities that exist in the information world and think that we really are all connected. Still, the increased access that we do have provides us the opportunity to experience more of the world and its cultures and people (in a way), as well as providing us with a forum for these issues should we choose to discuss them. Although I think a real “global information society” is more of a catchphrase than a reality at this point, we do have an opportunity, but we need to consider some grassroots-level issues before we can really look around at the world from the treetops. 

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