Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice, transport of flickering pictures-in this century as in others our highest accomplishments still have the single aim of bringing men together.Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944), Wind, Sand, and Stars, ch. 3 (published in Terre des Hommes, 1939).
"The single aim of bringing people together..." That's pretty important. And it is my touchstone for what is good technology and what is bad technology. Good technology brings people together.
Compared to other communication systems, the Internet is in its infancy. The tools that we use today are still primitive, compared to what will appear over the next five years.
One of the big areas of development will probably be in the area of collaborative work practices. This is where several people can work on a problem all at once. For business, this is a really exciting idea.
Imagine, for example, that you are planning your political strategy for the next election. You have people all over the country, with all sorts of skills, trying to contribute.
You all get on-line and start talking and typing at once. The system tracks who is saying what to whom and puts all the typed ideas into a document. Then, as the graphic artist in Sydney is doodling in the corner of the document, someone else in Canberra can be adding a spreadsheet showing how many supporters you have in each state.
Meanwhile the people in Melbourne and Perth have withdrawn to a private area for a short time to straighten out some policy issues. They present this to the group, and it is incorporated into the document.
Finally, someone in Adelaide is turning the material into a Web site while the graphic designer is using the same material to make a printed brochure.
Will this sort of thing be in place by the next election? Certainly. Will people be using it? Maybe, depending on whether it improves communication or just makes things more muddled.
E-groups (http://www.egroups.com/) is probably the most effective on-line collaboration system that I have found so far. Not because it is powerful, but because it is easy, and integrates with e-mail easily.
You can get a sense of how it works by looking at the group that I manage, Net-citizen (http://www.egroups.com/group/net-citizen/). If you want to join, just let me know.
Some of the things that you can do include:
Messages that are sent to the group arrive via e-mail, just like a mailing list. However, they are also archived to the Web is a way that is easy to access.
You can meet people who are interested in the things that you are passionate about. A group that I met at Virtual Moreland are originally from El Salvador. Because of the troubles in their country, their friends and relatives are spread all across the world. So they are slowly forming El-Salvadorian communities on the Internet. All in Spanish, all working together to find other people from El-Salvador and draw them into the group.