11 July 2008
What You Know Can Control You
The 19th Century had telegraph and train-delivery of newspapers, but the democratization of information in America began in the 20th Century technology with individuals using telephones, cinematography, radio, commercial teletype, television, microwave, satellite and interconnecting networks among computer systems that can draw from any or all of the other technologies. Are we discovering that information technology was the subject of Plato's "The Cave"? How important to the governance paradigm written into The Constitution of 1787 was public access to information and, indeed, the range of information itself?
In July 2008, two of the five major, commercial television conglomerates, CNN and Fox News, provide the only television news for national consumption for cable and satellite subscribers unless the subscriber purchases an expanded package. Then there is the ubiquitous newspaper USA Today at every hotel, motel, freeway restaurant and other places with the highest number of customers competing with The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times or The Washington Post that sell for four times the price of USA Today. Consistently, the only other newspapers are local or regional, increasingly owned by Gannett. Every literate person in America can access national and world news, but the concentration of ownership and the degree of editorial control over news in 2008 is limiting the breadth and priority for the vast majority of the people.
During my undergraduate years at the University of Michigan in the 1960s, the conventional wisdom of freedom fighters and national liberation movements was that the initial victory of any revolution was the ability to control sources of information: radio and television broadcasting resources, getting rid of newspapers against the rebels and either interrupting or tapping into telephone and telegraph. During the crisis of a civil war, coup d'etat or invasion, the populace wants to know what is going on and whether they could or would be affected by it. Self-preservation becomes paramount for oneself and loved ones. So, for dissendent actions, one of the first targets became the government-controlled sources of information.