Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Facing the YouTube generation

From The Statesman

Hardly has the conspiratorial expression “Let’s Google him” settled in as a sizzling hot potato on the American tongue-in-cheek civic discourse when there is another linguistic gatecrasher “YouTubing” into American culture and consciousness, as last week’s Democratic debate showed. The YouTube questioning began with a street expletive, “Wassup?”

It was a remarkable event technologically speaking since this is certainly the beginning of a new era when television and the Internet have begun to converge into a seamless medium used by the Internet hoi polloi and potential voters who asked all kinds of questions ranging from gun control and global warming to healthcare, sex education for children, gay marriages, Darfur (Sudan), and Iraq war.

Experts could not have asked better questions of the candidates, and as author James Surowiecki might have said, it was a sample of the wisdom of the crowd made visible by YouTube. Therefore, to say that it was nothing more than another digital town hall meeting is to miss the point: the challenge of the emerging new media to traditional media gatekeepers and professional pundits. It was a surge from the earth gone flat; and there will be more to come.

The questioners it seemed had already “Googled” the Democratic presidential candidates’ past track records on various issues and using their home videos equipment they personalised controversial issues and uploaded them to YouTube for the debate, which was in actuality candidates’ reactions to questions rather than they debating among themselves.

But there were faces, ethnically heterogeneous, the Democrats could not ignore. Nor will the Republicans when they confront the YouTube generation on 17 September at St. Petersburg, Florida, though one of them, Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts, said in an interview: “I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman.” But Republicans cannot escape the tech savvy YouTube generation or they will be left behind.

Out of 3,000 questions ranging from the serious to the absurd, CNN, the all news cable network, selected 39 for hosting to Democratic presidential hopefuls, who had gathered on the campus of the military college, Citadel, South Carolina, deep in the Bible belt. An animated video clip of Snowman with his snowball kid created a stir when it asked a question about global warming, which even former Vice-President Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth could not have done better.

Then there was a gun-toting wise guy who held an automatic guerrilla-style gun and calling it “my baby” asked whether it would be taken away if a Democrat were to occupy the White House. “He needs help. I don’t know if he’s mentally qualified to own that gun,” said Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, one of the eight candidates on the stage. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the issue of gun control receded into the lower depths of American consciousness, though gun violence has not abated.

But Senator Biden missed the irony: The assault weapon guy was mocking the Second Amendment, the American people’s right to bear arms like “my baby.”

Regarding questions about Iraq war and withdrawal of US troops, Democrats as expected were united in condemning President George W Bush in misleading the country and mismanaging the post-war operations. Moreover, they were equally united about how soon to withdraw, soon enough but in a phased and gradual manner in order to protect the troops and not leave a hellhole behind, which Iraq has already become. Some set tentative dates while others were judiciously ambiguous, which showed once again how deeply confused and divided Americans are about Iraq.

In response to a question whether he or she would meet with the leaders of Syria, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea in his or her first year as President in order to promote diplomacy, Democratic candidates took this as another opportunity to hit at the Bush administration’s reluctance to use diplomatic tools for advancing national interest.

Senator Barack Obama, a leading candidate among Democrats and the biggest challenge to Senator Hillary Clinton’s ambition to go to the White House, sharply rebuked the Bush administration saying that it’s nothing short of ridiculous to believe that not talking to countries is a kind of punishment to them. He said he would readily talk to them as John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan continuously did with the Soviet Union.

Senator Clinton’s thoughtful and measured response to the question made her look and sound presidential. She said that she would not rush to meet with them in her first year without knowing what their intentions were and certainly she would not like to give them a chance to use the meeting for propaganda purposes. The President of the United States cannot behave like a used car salesman ready to talk to anyone.

The reason why some Republican candidates are reluctant to face the YouTube debate format is that they are not sure what kinds of questions might get into the YouTube pool and what questions CNN might select.

To minimise the CNN effect, questions could be randomly selected. Politicians are control freaks and do not want to lose control over their professionally designed, customised and controlled messages, which they can drumbeat through television commercials and for which they have to raise millions of dollars. In this sense, the Internet is a very different medium because it empowers people. In the future instead of holding a Press conference, politicians might be asked to hold a YouTube conference.

(Dr ND Batra teaches communications and diplomacy at Norwich University and is the author of Digital Freedom)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Corporate CEO as diplomat

The art of being a corporate diplomat

From The Statesman

The days of autocrat corporate CEOs are gone.

Even a powerful man like Rupert Murdoch, the most powerful global media tycoon who is trying to take over Dow Jones, the company that owns the **Wall Street Journal**, is conducting himself as a superb corporate diplomat. It is not easy wrenching control of one of the most influential global newspapers from a family (the Bancroft family) that has owned it for more than hundred years. Whether he succeeds or not, it will be a good lesson for practitioners of corporate diplomacy.

Writing in **Harvard Business Online**, Michael Watkins, says: “The rise of corporate diplomacy is a global phenomenon, but it’s being driven by different forces in different regions. In the United States, one driving force is the decline of the imperial CEO resulting from the constraints imposed on senior executives by Sarbanes-Oxley and activist boards.”
The necessity of being a good diplomat arises from the fact that there are other powerful forces, not only NGOs and the government, but public interest groups and influentials who make it their business to mount a challenge when they see a corporation growing too big or indulging in unethical practices.

There is another important reason for doing corporate diplomacy. Since the foreign policies of a country can put a damper on its international commerce, multinational corporations must have their own corporate diplomats and protocol officers for business development abroad, as POSCO and other international corporations are doing in India, for example.

Corporate diplomacy is crucial to the credibility of a company in explaining, positioning and carrying out its business, especially in these times when the image of the Unite States abroad is not bright. International commerce depends upon the goodwill of the public, which must be continuously built so that it works as a shock absorber when some unforeseen calamity occurs and crisis communication strategy has to be deployed. The creation and the development of this intangible and valuable asset, the public goodwill, is the function of corporate diplomacy.

In the 21st century, doing business in a foreign country must be much more than making profits. In his keynote address to Owens Corning Executive Summit at Tampa, Florida, Bill Shireman, President and CEO, Future 500, said: “The world is demanding a lot of the modern corporation.” When a company captures market share, he said, it also captures mind share, the deep support of the people. When the host population perceives a corporation as a good citizen, it produces collateral benefits for the home country.

A good corporation in a foreign country can become a goodwill ambassador for the home country. On the other hand, when the local population perceives a country as hostile, foreign businesses could be hit hard. The foundation for grassroots public diplomacy, which is more than show-and-tell visits by celebrities, must be patiently laid as China has begun to do. Resentment against US foreign policy has been contaminating the image of US corporate brands, especially in Arab-Muslim countries, which requires corporate America to do its own public diplomacy.
Doing effective global corporate diplomacy requires local knowledge, competencies and tools for implementing strategic communications to deal effectively with foreign publics. The overarching goal of corporate diplomacy is to develop an effective corporate voice and to learn to use all available means of persuasion, media and human networks, to shape public opinion as well as policies of the government in the host country. KFC, McDonald’s and Coca Cola cannot depend upon their international brands to survive in hostile environment. They must engage local communities in meaningful activities that enhance the quality of life. They have to engage in creative business-to-people diplomacy.

Global business needs a new kind of corporate diplomat, one who must be responsive and effective in communicating with different publics, interest groups, activists, governments and stakeholders in international settings by using various media forms - print, radio/television and the Internet. The corporate diplomat must be able to create a powerful corporate identity that serves the mission of the corporation as a responsible global corporate citizen and at the same time support the culture of the host country.

Developing intercultural sense and sensibility will enable the practitioners of corporate diplomacy to develop culturally sensitive best business practices throughout the supply chain. Special focus must be placed on: developing strategic communications for foreign media; maintaining brand reputation; developing rapid response crisis communication strategies; developing corporate advocacy for environment, open trade and free markets; using philanthropy and community relations to counter negative sentiments; dealing with foreign bureaucracy, influentials, activists and opinion leaders. Above all, emphasis must be on maintaining corporate integrity abroad; and being a good global citizen. A corporate diplomat is a renaissance person, an enlightened opinion leader whose job is to educate stakeholders, including customers, lawmakers, the news media and NGO’s about the company’s commitment to social responsibility.

Developing a multicultural mindset, ability to use intelligence and tact, tolerance for ambiguity and contradictions, and being articulate and media savvy are some of the attributes of being an effective corporate diplomat

(ND Batra is professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University. He is the author of Digital Freedom: How Much Can You Handle?)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Let history judge George W. Bush

Bush stands firm like a rock

From The Statesman

President George W Bush - not public opinion polls - is the prime political mover in the United States. Foreign policy of course cannot run on public opinion polls, which go up and down so often that it will be politically unwise to be solely guided by them.

National leaders some time take measures that are unpopular, nevertheless, necessary according to their perception of the problem the country faces and their political vision. The hope that the excesses of the Bush administration, if any, will be corrected by the Democratic control of both houses is yet to be fulfilled.

Some thought Democratic Congress would redirect the president’s policy of keeping the course in Iraq, but Bush keeps going. He says it his job to conduct the war, not for Congress. He will listen to the generals, who haven’t given up on Iraq, not yet. The generals hope the new strategy in Iraq needs time to show results.

Democrats realise that they have failed to make a strategic use of their newly attained political power to persuade the president to find a workable solution how to stabilize Iraq and bring about troops withdrawal without damaging the US long-term interest in the region. They don’t have veto-proof strength in Congress to tie up the president or force him take actions against his best judgment.

Democrats are also feeling helpless for failing to put forward their own national agenda to strengthen their control over Congress as well as prepare for winning the White House in 2008. Iraq is playing as much a significant role in the 2008 presidential election as it did in the mid-term elections. Iraq is keeping the country divided. No one believes that Iraq, Afghanistan or terrorism would go away soon, which means that Democrats whether they control Congress or the White House or both in 2008 will have to deal with Iraq and international terrorism, even when they claim that the mess was created and aggravated by the Bush administration.

There is a broad national consensus, nonetheless, that the United States cannot just pack and run away from Iraq. Not only Iraq would continue to be a bloody hell for decades but also the United States would never recover from its humiliating shame and failure, if US troops were withdrawn without a plan for peace and stability. The limited goal has been to control Sunni-Shia sectarian killings and bring about a reasonable level of law and order and political stability that could justify withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq. Unfortunately it has not been happening.

Of the several benchmarks Congress set for evaluation of progress in Iraq, only a few have been met satisfactorily.

While Kurds in the north who have enjoyed autonomy since the first Gulf War due to the no-fly zone restrictions imposed on Saddam’s regime by the United States are not ready to give up their gains including the region’s oil wealth, Sunnis aided by some neighbouring Arab countries and Shias with the full backing of Iran are locked in a deadly struggle for supremacy. Division of the country into three separate independent states would leave the oil wealth with Shias who dominate the south and with Kurd who control the north, leaving Sunnis empty but full of bitterness and vengeance, which would not bring sectarian violence and terrorism to an end.

Negotiations based on equitable distribution of oil resources and a federal-type political structure that keeps balance amongst three regions as the basis for reconciliation and unity and national reconstruction has not made much headway.

So when Congress leaders especially Democrats ask the president to get out of Iraq quickly, they are not being realistic. Getting out of Iraq will not be the end of Al-Qaida, which has become resurgent as the recent events in Pakistan’s Lal Masjid and the arrests of eight terrorists, most of them doctors, in the UK shows.

Writing in **Foreign Affairs**, Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis said sometime ago: “The terrorists of September 11 exposed vulnerabilities in the defences of all states,” which necessitated for Bush to preside over “the most sweeping redesign of US grand strategy since the presidency of Franklin D Roosevelt. The basis for Bush’s grand strategy, like Roosevelt’s, comes from the shock of surprise attack and will not change. None of FDR’s successors, Democrat or Republican, could escape the lesson he drew from the events of 7 December, 1941 (Pearl Harbor): that distance alone no longer protected Americans from assaults at the hands of hostile states. Neither Bush nor his successors, whatever their party, can ignore what the events of 11 September, 2001, made clear: the deterrence against states affords insufficient protection from attacks by gangs, which can now inflict the kind of damage only states fighting wars used to be able to achieve.”

Terrorism breeds in failing states. Pakistani military rulers know that breeding and financing terrorists can bite back. Britain and other European countries too have begun to realise that Islamic terrorism is growing in their midst and must be purged whatever the cost. Even lionising a glib satirist like Salman Rushdie can be hazardous.

No one will disagree with President Bush that war against terrorism is a struggle for civilisation. He has many successes and has made many mistakes, but now it is a question of consolidating the gains in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is unthinkable that the US will totally withdraw from the Middle East and Central Asia. Strategically speaking, there’s too much at stake in the region and the US Congress must realise it.

(ND Batra is professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University. He is the author of Digital Freedom: How Much Can You Handle?)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

China's sullied image

A strong global reputation matters

From The Statesman

Let’s see how long it will take China, Inc. to refurbish its sullied image of selling contaminated toothpaste, farm-raised catfish, shrimp, eel, pet foods (responsible for numerous deaths), toys (with lead paint), electric goods, and poor quality tyres responsible for hundreds of accidents in the United States.

Since China’s economic boom depends upon exports, China, Inc. is dumping poorly inspected goods on the global market. India, Inc. should be on the alert about the quality of its products and services. The whole world is watching.

Reputation matters. Reputation is the foundation of trust and loyalty, which gives people confidence in dealing with a corporation or for that matter a country. A strong reputation and endearing image of a company or a country can help it to rise from any serious crisis. A company’s identity and its image are the building blocks of its reputation.

Identity is a company’s assertion of its individuality and embodies the company’s vision, its reason for being there. It re-enforces its business case. The image of a company on the other hand is the distinct memorable impression in the minds of the people as they interact with the company. Together, identity and image raise the profile of a company, its reputation, its significance beyond commercialism and profit-making. People’s perception of a company, however, emerges from the totality of the impression created by the company, sometimes in spite of itself.

While a company could do its utmost to build and control its identity, it cannot totally control the image, the impression, the perception, the public has about it. A company’s identity and its image are never the same, but closer they are, better is the reality, which is the basis of the company’s reputation. A company’s name, symbols, products, services, employees, buildings, all its tangibles and intangibles, are not merely a cluster of facts; rather, they constitute a dynamic system that creates specific values and meanings for the stakeholders.

While it is possible and desirable to achieve consistency in identity, Apple’s (iPod, iTune and iPhone), for example, the image of a company should no be expected to be the same in every country. McDonalds’s and Pizza Hut are two of the many fast food chains in the United States but in India they have the image of a desirable American food, in spite of the fact that the identity of the company, its sounds and images, are by and large the same in India as in the United States. The corporate identity of a company must embody its core values and the sums and substance of what is called its business case. Identity as the visualisation of a company’s mission answers the unasked question: Who are we, and what are we doing here? Through logos, mottos, slogans and brands, a company enacts the drama of self-presentation and builds its image and perception in the mind of the public and various stakeholders.

While a consistent and well-defined identity of a company and the image it projects before the public helps it to build a perception of the company what it stands for, the reputation is built over time and depends upon how the company conducts itself in conformity with its identity and image.

China-Darfur, China-Olympics, China-slave labour are in the same perceptual domain.

A strong reputation matters because it enhances a company’s attractiveness, softens criticism, and creates public support for the company’s activities. Customers don’t mind paying a little extra for a product when it comes from a company with a strong reputation for reliability. It becomes easy for a company to implement changes and introduce innovations based on the trust created by the company’s good reputation.

A company with a strong reputation attracts talented employees, who like to stay with the company for personal and professional growth. The likeability of a company by its employees and their day-to-day interaction with various stakeholders adds to the reputation of the company. Employees become the corporeal identity of the company embodying its values and mission. But when a CEO is found with his pants down or his hand in the cookie jar, the reputation comes crashing down.

Corporate advertising can be a very effective communications tool for projecting the image of a company in support of its business case. Moreover, it can be an uncensored and unfiltered voice of a company, especially when the company comes under media attack. Institutional advertising can be used to express a company’s views on various political, social, and environmental issues as well as in support of its corporate vision.

When two companies merge to form a new company, corporate advertising can be effectively used to inform stakeholders about the new vision of the emergent company. The newly merged company needs to forge an image and identity that are new and at the same time incorporate the past trust and traditions of the original companies. A case in point is AT&T corporate advertising that presents its new global vision symbolised by the space image of the earth and the company’s networking abilities. Building on the strength of the two telecommunications companies (AT&T and SBC), the new company began to create a new brand image and identity for itself.

AT&T has now become associated with iPhone and its reputation will rise and fall with the quality of service it provides to customers. Issue or advocacy advertising is very important for companies, especially when they come under a threat from special interest groups, civic society activists, and the government. Since issue advertising deals with controversial topics, it should be handled very carefully. Issue advertising reaches the stakeholders of a company directly; therefore it can counteract the unfriendly opinions of journalists who have negative views of the company. An imaginative and creative corporate advertising programme can enhance the reputation of a company and increase its likeability in the minds of various stakeholders.

Likeability generates goodwill and creditability, which are very precious assets for a company to attract and retain good and highly skilled employees.

In some ways countries that depend upon external trade are no different from global corporations. They depend upon international public goodwill. While China may suppress public opinion at home, it cannot tell Americans to shut up and accept whatever shoddy goods it exports to the country.

ND Batra is the author of Digital Freedom: How Much Can You Handle?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Tagore: Such is Thy pleasure

Thou Hast Made Me Endless
Part IV

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941 AD) the Nobel Laureate of 1913 was introduced to the West primarily through the collection of English translation of some of his poems/songs captioned as ‘Gitanjali’ (=Offering of Songs).

More translations of his works followed by the poet himself and others after he had won the Nobel, including poems/songs, dramas, short stories etc. However, such efforts were sporadic and sluggish, mostly on individual initiative, which still remain so.As a result, a vast volume of the poet’s works remains un-translated while, it appears, it is an impossible proposition to translate even a substantial part of the poet’s total works to permit those, not privileged by the knowledge of Bengali language, a reasonably broad view of his myriad creations where unfathomable perceptional depth of top grade aesthetics runs through, literally true to his song “Thou hast made me endless / Such is Thy pleasure”.

Notwithstanding this, an upsurge of Tagore translation took place in the last decade of the twentieth century by virtue of a good number of eminent poets/translators e.g.William Radice, Joe Winter, Ketaki Kushari Dyson, to name a few, all of whom left their valuable contribution to this oeuvre and my book THE ECLIPSED SUN is a modest addition to this. I have put stress on a few aspects of the poet’s works, particularly those in his twilight years, which seemed to me quite inadequately covered so far. The followings are presented mostly based on this book.

RAJAT DAS GUPTA: Calcutta: e-mail: rajarch@cal3.vsnl.net.in

Poem No: 10 of Patraput written at Santiniketan in 1935, 6 years before the Poet’s death.

[Translator’s note: Through his various dissertations Tagore lucidly explained different parts of Upanishada, the scripture for mankind left by the Indian sages 4000 years back. Like me who do not have access to the original Upanishada for lack of command over Sanskrit, the language in which it was composed, may find Tagore’s essays/poems as the best guide to Upanishada. Thus is one of the numerous annotations on Upanishada by Tagore -]

“Those who are craven take this world as comprising impediments only which impair their vision and hope. So they know only the impediments as the truth, but not the real truth. But he who is great, sees the truth instantly beyond all impediments. That is why there is a gulf of difference between their thoughts. When everybody is in chorus that they see only darkness, he can assert- “Beyond all darkness I have seen Him who is great and luminous." (Upanishada)

This annotation resounds in this poem also which helps us share the poet’s glimpse of the ultimate truth beyond the daily torments of this mortal world.

For long is carrying my body
Small moments’ rage, enmity and anxiety –
Overshadowing soul’s liberty
With his own ambiguity.

With Truth’s mask Truth he will conceal,
His doll with Death’s clay build he will;
Yet, Death will trace in it if,
It will be his grief.
His play is for self deception,
But that it is play is never his conviction.
Offerings to Death he will relentlessly pile,
Spin in rotations of tear and smile;
With the steam and bubbles of woos
And ignominies he boos.
Daily his ego shoots fiery missiles
Only the ashes from void piles.

In search of my inner self
Into the light I delve
That every morning will reveal,
In it, Creation’s serenity to feel.
I take apart my soul from this body
Out of all futile anxiety
Caught in the soiled trap of many an hour
There for ablution in heavenly shower;
Where rests the silent mail
Whose invitation never did I hail.
Then I recall – O Sun,
The saints’ prayer ages back done –
“O Luminous, shrouds your golden bowl
Truth, our final goal;
Unfold it O Gracious!”
Of which I be conscious –
To extend my awakening
Along His rays from horizon every morning.
I pray- O Sun, lift this lid, my body
Comprising atoms and molecules shoddy
Of your radiating mass
That hide the Ultimate enormous –
Be that mystery revealed in my vision clear;
Your holiest exuberance may I peer.
My innermost truth that was latent
In your vastness without an extent
Along with the un-devised earth
Is yours only, at your mirth.
At your splendor’s brim
Humans sighted their nobility supreme –
That from age to age you did compile
By the Persian Gulf, Himalayas or Nile.
Said they – “Sons of the Immortal we are –
Did vision that Superman
From beyond the darkness, blazing golden.”
Also listen to: Hridoy Amar Prokash Holo (Tagore song) - Paromitar Ek Din

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Innovate or perish

Keep innovating or you’ll perish

From The Statesman

Technological and economic forces are generating innovations like iPhones. They are creating new opportunities, new wealth and new billionaires.
Global corporations must be opportunistic.
They must always be on the lookout for new ideas and the possibilities of their practical applications; and moreover they should be ready to do so before anyone else does. That is the only way a corporation can go from one exponential change to another and always be on the cutting edge of technology and management.
For global businesses, the best strategy is to look for a technology, an idea or a business method that creates new market space and a cyber-niche that never existed before, and establish market dominance until another one appears and makes it obsolete. But a company doesn’t have to be inventing newer technologies; instead it should be on the lookout for them and adopt them. This is one of the reasons that the US companies are offshoring their businesses abroad because offshoring is inshoring and extension of brainpower.
By offshoring work to India, the United States is gaining brainpower. If we network the world’s best brains, the rate of innovation should increase dramatically. But that also means that the rate of obsolescence too would increase, leading to a state of turbulence, which could be a source of self-renewal or self-destruction.
File sharing in creative expression, for example, in music recording, has been generating turbulence that has necessitated new business models, since lawsuits against piracy don’t work very well. The Internet is challenging old business models. Businesses, however, flourish in a stable environment.
Whatever good or evil Microsoft Corp. might have done because of its monopoly practices, Windows operating system has provided a universal standard and created desktop stability. But some time a unique application could be replaced with a clone without adverse effects or disruption. For example, Netscape’s Navigator, which had reached a critical mass, was overtaken by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
In the digital age, one cannot count on the blessings of killer applications for too long because they have a short life span. Just as transistors transformed the global economy from industrial to an information age, mobile computing and the Internet are transforming the information age to virtual age. Gordon Moore predicted that every 18 months, computing power will double at constant cost and his law has held its sway. The same has been true of the bandwidth, which is becoming faster and cheaper.
Miniaturisation, mobilisation, and speed have gone hand in hand with the power of networks, whose value increases dramatically with each additional node and hotspot. From subways to highways to public buildings, inexpensive digitisation has begun to penetrate all things, enabling them to network and collaborate and become sentient in a manner of speaking. Whatever is digitised can be networked and shared.
Every human activity can be digitally designed and built with an Internet connection. In short, whatever can be networked makes it both a consumer and a supplier of information, which makes the global supply-chain system of information an inexhaustible source of further value added information.
Networked databases can profile potential customers, for example, for greater marketing efficiency through target marketing. Offshoring reduces transaction costs but of course global corporations should have a larger vision than merely reducing transaction costs more effectively. A horizontal or hetrararchical core and ring management structure - a dynamic and stable core of top executives and a fluid and flexible ring of disposable employees, such as outsourced contractors or offshored workers - is the emerging shape of a modern business. And from this point of view, a global corporation is dynamic network of mutually beneficial and productive relationship with workers, business partners and customers. Not bricks and stones, only digits shall rule. That’s the future.
Let’s keep in mind that the networked world, a world of collaboration first began when telegraph reached a critical mass in 1843, making possible the rise of Associated Press, the first network of collaborative information gathering and distribution. However, not all ideas and inventions have the same impact on society.
Chinese invented the moveable clay and metal type printing press in 1041 with little social consequences for the Chinese society. But when a German craftsman Johannes Gutenberg re-invented the movable type printing press in 1436-1440 and published the Bible in 1452, he couldn’t have predicted the unintended consequences. In the hands of Martin Luther, printing became a revolutionary application, which he used with a devastating effect against the Church and unleashed Protestant Reformation that led to prolonged civil strife in many European nations.
We do not know how the convergence of innovations and emergence of newer practical applications will impact our daily lives and the networked economy in which we work today. For example, how iPhone and its competitors will change the real world as they incorporate the virtual social worlds of Second Life, MySpace and YouTube and the mirror worlds of Google Earth is difficult to say. But an innovative corporation will be on the lookout for a killer application emerging from the great convergence that is taking place now and adapt to its own advantage before anyone else does it.
(ND Batra is professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University and is the author of Digital Freedom)