Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

High Tech World Demands High Values

May 24, 1999

In a recently published book, "The Lexus and the Olive Tree," author and journalist Thomas Friedman tries to summarize the rapid changes in our economy due to globalization. He dates the modern era of globalization to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of communism.

Parallel to this has been the rise of the Internet and technological developments of computerization, telecommunication, miniaturization, compression technology and digitization. These changes are as profound to society as were the introduction of the printing press, the automobile, telephone or television. Friedman cites a Merrill Lynch ad that heralds the significance of the change, "The World is Ten Years Old."

Fast world and slow world. This has produced a democratization of technology, finance and information across borders and cultures. "Getting connected" is the metaphor for the new Internet age. Instead of the old designation of 1st world developed countries and 3rd world developing countries, Friedman refers to the new economy as the "fast" world and the "slow" world.

There are segments of the fast world in each country who are "wired" and connected while each country would also have a slow world oblivious to the new technologies. The slow world will be at a disadvantage in terms of new emerging economic realities and possibilities in the fast world. They will be left behind by the new economy.

E-commerce. We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg of electronic commerce (e-commerce) through Internet sites like amazon.com, reel.com, e-bay.com, garden.com, embroidery.com, etc. The marketplace is going to be transformed into cyberspace. How will "land-based" businesses fare under the new economy? Some will be rendered obsolete entirely while others will have both a land-based and cyberspace component.

It boggles the mind to envision the dynamics of this new marketplace and all the upheavals, new businesses, dislocations and synergies. This new world favors intellectual "value-added" products, content providers, higher education, global competition and quick-footed flexibility. There will be a lot of stress and a lot of rewards.

Internet stocks are flying high not on actual value but on the basis of their potential for establishing themselves at the center of the new marketplace. Some are going to win big and others will fail dramatically as they fail to establish themselves as the name "brand" among giants of competitors.

Lawrence Grossman, former head of NBC News said, "Printing made us all readers. Xeroxing made us all publishers. Television made us all viewers. Digitization made us all broadcasters."

The downside. In the face of these changes, let me raise a few concerns.

  • Besides being a few clicks away from a world class education, a vibrant marketplace and e-mail connections with family and friends, we are a few clicks away from depravity and evil. The Internet will add a disproportionate share of unregulated filth and wickedness to an already culturally polluted environment.
  • With undisciplined use, the Internet weakens primary relationships within the family and community by devoting inordinate time to being online and to secondary relationships. The Internet increases loneliness and depression. People in the age of information have to be disciplined and focused in order to use the Internet as a defined tool to accomplish specific goals. Life has to be lived in balance with relationships and community bonds having a high priority.
  • With e-commerce and e-learning, virtual communities will replace real ones. What will happen to our traditional human institutions and community gathering places when we have no need for local connections? This will keep sociologists busy for years.  The potential for social dislocation and isolation will be as profound as the economic consequences. Careers emphasis and materialism will grow at the expense of service opportunities and community celebratory activities. Will the fast world get so fast that charity gets left on the sideline?

High values with high tech. High moral values and a strong spiritual perspective will be necessary to anchor human beings in this dizzying world of change just over the horizon. We'll have to be more deliberate in our choices to come together and nourish relationships and community. We'll have to reject the excesses of materialism, selfishness, base indulgence, entertainment and other cultural traps while taking advantage of the connected world of the Internet for our own focused benefit.

This "ten-year-old" world we live in needs the values and wisdom of the past to help us hold on to what is really important in life. The fast world and the slow world need to coexist and support one another. We'll need both our real neighbors and our virtual neighbors. What a mixed up, exciting world this will be!

By the way, you may want to check out my new website under construction, www.valfarmer.com.