Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The democratization of information

Prof.Carl Malone of Sloan spoke on the democratization of information at the manufacturing conference at MIT-Sloan last month. With the internet reaching the nook and corner of the
world , information is now accessible to the common person across the globe at a reasonable cost.The implications of this phenomenon are profound and are given below.They are by no
means exhaustive .

1.Information asymetries are slowly going away.Simply put the "special" advantage that
certain sections of the society enjoyed by virtue of their access to information is fading.
Lewitt and Dubner explain this in their book 'Freakonomics' by citing the example of a real
estate agent whose privilege of special information is slowly declining.

2.The gulf between the haves and the have nots will slowly decline with the unfettered access to
information to the later sections of the society.

3.Teir 2 and tier 3 schools are improving their academic standards. In India , the IIX's
(IIT's,IIM's,IIFT etc.) have historically enjoyed special status - a lot of it had to do with the tight fisting of information (while fully acknowleding their superior academic standards). With students from tier2 and tier3 schools getting free access to the world's information , the information assymetries are going away.

4.Success in the corporate and academic worlds would lie in sharing information, not
suppressing it.As a corollary,power can be wielded by distributing information not by suppressing it.

5.The Indian government seems to have realized this phenomenon and has enacted a legislation called the right to information.Citizens just need to petition the district's information officer to solicit any kind of information.The idea might have been that if the government does not provide information,citizens would get it anyway through the internet and other modern media.

6.Both service providers and service beneficiaries will be better informed. A simple keyword search on google provides critical information.

However as with every phenomenon the democratization of information has limitations.
1.While information is available for free,wisdom comes through experience. Experiential knowledge is still not free especially to the weaker sections of the society.
2.The masses in general have profound wisdom and a robust common sense. It is likely that all the reserach available on the internet will not add much to the general wisdom of the masses.
3.Human expertise is indispensable.You still consult a doctor no matter how much information is out there on the internet.

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