General Background

Human beings and organisations are engaged in a wide variety of information exchanges, using different technical mediations. This has been a fact for many centuries. Through time, a variety of memory and communication media have been developed, each characterised by its own production and transport techniques, its mechanisms for accessing and using information, its funding mechanisms. Human activities as a whole organised themselves around and by making use of these forms of information exchanges (for instance person-to-person communication has undergone major changes further to the apparition of telephone). At a given time, and in a given geographical area, a balance is established between how these information exchanges species make use of some rare resources, most notably the time of people, financial resources, and the ability of people and organisations to contribute to the creation of new information. This is a dynamic equilibrium but it exhibits remarkable structural stability other relatively long periods of time.

Present on-going technical revolutions introduce major disruptions in the balance between various forms of information exchanges. All memory and communication mediation progressively use digital representations and common transport infrastructures. This represents for information a change similar to the birth of an immaterial transportable (in space and time) monetary general equivalent (through escompte and lettres de change) at the end of the Middle Ages. The result of such a major change is that some species of information exchanges will disappear or more probably be confined to restricted niches, other will appear. The respective share of each type of information exchange in the economy and its role in human activities inside and outside the economical sphere will be redefined. But how? What drives it? How should policies try to handle these processes? If there is value in the ecological or evolutionary analogy - as all analogies one should handle it with care - it is in teaching us that early differentiation after an environmental change, and the resulting occupation of some niches by given species can durably drive the further development and structural balance of evolution. The forms of information exchanges that appear today, and the linkage between themselves and their environment (funding mechanisms, taxation, behaviours, etc.) may lock in the future development of an information society.

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