The history of disseminating information is an old one, and for much of the history of civilization, the ability to disseminate that information and to understand it was the province of the privileged and powerful. Johannes Gutenberg’s 1440 invention of the printing press in conjunction with movable type to create a printing process was a singular moment in the history of civilization. A single printing press could produce 3,000 pages her day, and by 1500 the printing press was in over 200 cities throughout Western Europe. By 1600, the combined output of the presses was 150 to 200 million books per year. Knowledge was available to anyone, and the spread of ideas helped to fuel the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and the Enlightenment centuries down the road.
Gutenberg Meets Tim Berners-Lee
We stand at a crossroads where old information systems are crumbling before the newer, faster, more democratic ways of communicating information. News, entertainment, and communication are being redefined in the age of the tweet, the Vine, and the chat app. The internet has revolutionized revolution, opened up dialogues on race, religion, medicine, science, and governance like no other invention since Herr Gutenberg’s press. The use of smart phones, the spread of Wi-Fi and LTE has made the internet less a place that we go than a place that goes with us. The main problem is that they internet is not as open, not as free, and not as widespread as it needs to be. Fully half the population of the planet has no internet connectivity at all, and one might argue that they are the most in need of it.
This is the Gutenberg moment meeting Tim Berners-Lee. Governments and private industry can lay the groundwork to bring the internet and its benefits to people in desperate need of innovations in the delivery of health care, education, financial services such as a community bank, and even basic communication in remote areas. Government and industry must work together to lay the groundwork to do this, both by enacting subsidies to build infrastructure and create jobs, and working to guarantee net neutrality so that everyone can receive content freely and without artificially created constraints motivated by ideology, political lobbying, or the need to gas and staff the CEO’s Boeing.
The tech industry is often accused of living in a bubble, looking only for the next hot app and disregarding diversity, the needs of people who can’t afford iPhones, and looking only as far as the next tax loophole to offshore vats of tax-free cash. People need more than just the next hot app, and in response Techfugees.com is rising to put the minds of engineers, entrepreneurs, and start-ups with NGOS and government agencies to address the crisis instead of monetizing human misery. We have to end the society of I-got-mine and open the world up to the concept that everyone deserves the chance to get theirs. We must open our hearts, our minds, our institutions, and borders to resolve problems that are rooted in old conflicts and new.
In the near future, I will be launching a humanitarian effort to address issues like these and more.