Futurist: Forget information, think media

Unlike information, the personal media revolution is a two-way communication where one can "answer back", says an official from Institute for the Future.

SINGAPORE--Having progressed to a knowledge-based society, people must now drop the word "information" from their vocabulary and instead focus on the media evolution, says a technology thought leader. But it will be some time yet, he notes, before online users develop an "air of intellectual sophistication", and the ability to decipher facts from lies on the Internet.

"When information becomes central in our lives, it ceases to become information," said Paul Saffo, director and Roy Amara Fellow, Institute for the Future. Roy Amara is an academic module, taught at the University of Arizona, which focuses on approaches and methods used for studying the future. "It becomes the media. Media is the knowledge around us that is ubiquitous."

Saffo was addressing delegates at a knowledge conference here Monday, which was organized by Singapore's National Library Board.

He compared the time when people talked about putting entire libraries onto CD-ROMs, to how libraries have now evolved to become "ubiquitous global hypertext document systems" where information loaded on servers can be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection.

Saffo said: "There's a rhyming pattern in the information and knowledge space that harks back to the 1950s when television came and took off...(Today) it's not a mass media resolution, but a personal media revolution," he said.

He explained that the difference between the two--information and media--is that the personal media revolution is a two-way trip, where "you get to answer back".

This can be seen in every electronic device a person carries today. "Every information device today is a media device, be it a mobile phone, or a personal digital assistant," Saffo explained.

However, he warned that the personal media revolution could also bring about the destruction of "intellectual commons", where people choose to learn only about the things they want to know.

With different tribes of people steeped only in their own knowledge and ignorant about other fields, the personal media revolution could "fuel new superstition", and give rise to various forms of fundamentalism, he said.

It will take time for society, however, to develop an "air of intellectual sophistication where we do not believe everything we read on the internet", Saffo said.

Meanwhile, he foresees a future where libraries will contain books with intelligence built-in technologies, such as global positioning systems (GPS) and sensors. Already, the NLB uses radio frequency identity (RFID) chips in its books, he pointed out.

What he does not want however, are libraries of the future to be like Towers of Babel, consisting only of information provided by "blogs and wiki (Wikipedia)", he said, in reference to the biblical tale. A server software technology, wiki allows users to create and edit online content.

He said: "There are vital institutional roles to be played here, (which can only succeed) if library professionals step up to the plate and fulfill the role."