Problem: The pace of growth of technology and governance are not compatible raising a series of serious problems.

Solution: The solution lies in rethinking of the system of governance and develop effective new arrangements.


Harold A. Linstone, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon.

The combination of explosive population growth and rapidly evolving technology is in effect shrinking the earth to a global village. The earth's 5.77 billion in 1996 may swell to 9.4 billion by 2050. At the same time the widening gap between technological and organizational rates of change is producing a growing mismatch: we are approaching the new era with 21st century technologies, 20th century governance processes, and 19th century governance structures. Some view this mismatch as one between physical and social technologies.

The combination of shortsightedness, irresponsibility, gullibility, human greed, and fear of change is impeding homeostatic evolution of a knowledge society. Demographics is playing a significant role in the widening of the gap in the developed world. Youth have galvanized the information technology revolution: the personal computer or PC is the creation of startling young computer hackers and entrepreneurs (e.g., Steve Jobs and Apple, Bill Gates and Microsoft). On the other hand, the aging of the population as well as the damage to youth caused by deteriorating education and brains impaired by the drug epidemic and poverty-bred malnutrition raise the barriers to effective social change. Technology is serving, molding, and insulating the elite, while diverting or narcotizing the masses with entertainment, and marginizing the poor.

The uncontrolled exacerbation of such patterns portends serious societal tensions and fractures, accompanied by governance dysfunction and systematic instability. These effects will impact both advanced and developing countries. It is by no means assured that democracy can survive the resulting turbulence and resist the lure of, say, a majority based "friendly fascism."

The urge to minimize the yawning technology-organization chasm suggests two possibilities:

Path 1. SLOWING DOWN THE TECHNOLOGICAL PACE OF CHANGE: This scenario is unthinkable for most people, particularly scientists and engineers. The technological pace appears unstoppable. A new Dark Age is as inconceivable as it must have seemed to forecasters in the Golden Age of Imperial Rome.

Path 2. ACCELERATING THE ORGANIZATIONAL PACE OF CHANGE: There is little question that information, communication, and transportation technologies permit dramatic and profound changes in organizations and governance. Industry is already showing us new forms of organization, such as downsized, "virtual", decentralized, and global corporations. Taking just one example, we see today that information technology makes possible as never before SIMULTANEOUS localization and globalization, fragmentation and integration, or decentralization and centralization, in many societal aspects. Organizational innovation based on coordination-intensive structures is one consequence.

THE EVOLUTION OF COMPLEX SYSTEMS: A METAPHOR It is interesting to observe that complex system evolution generally appears to proceed by periodic swings between centralization and decentralization. One metaphor to gain insight about the evolution of complex systems is their depiction as alternating processes of separation and combination. A simple hierarchical system, say, a tribe or a small company, grows until it can no longer be effectively managed or controlled centrally. Then it separates into smaller units with considerable autonomy. When there is too much decentralization and the system is no longer effective, reunification occurs, usually at a higher level of complexity than existed previously. In other words, successful evolution proceeds to increasing system complexity by periodic restructuring that oscillates between differentiation and integration.

History provides fascinating clues on centralization and decentralization. The vast Roman Empire could only operate with considerable decentralization, even though it had outstanding communications for its time. It was physically impossible to exercise centralized day-to-day control. It worked as follows. Great care was taken at the Centre to appoint a provincial governor or military commander. He was highly trained in the way the Roman system operated and Roman policies were deeply ingrained in him. He had to hold high office in Rome before being appointed to a distant post. Thus coordination between the provinces and Rome was assured.

The fall of Rome led to decentralization and an attempt by the Catholic Church to effect a new centralized form of governance. The Holy Roman Empire was a temporary compromise. The power struggle between religious centralized and secular decentralized control bled Europe for centuries in the Middle Ages until the latter won out. The information technology revolution triggered by the printing press played a crucial role.

A challenge for the third century is to create, in Madison's words, a new "happy combination," balancing global/regional, national, and local governance levels in a way appropriate to the shrunken global village and the coordination-intensive structure made possible by today's information technology based revolution.

RETHINKING GOVERNANCE: Coordination-Intensive Structures and Networks:
Coordination-intensive structures can help to develop effective new arrangements. There is a growing recognition that governance is possible without formal government. Social institutions and informal organizations can be created to deal collectively with specific issues, developing rules of the game and settling conflicts. There are physical and biological systems that lie outside the jurisdiction of any one national government, such as Antarctica, the oceans, the electromagnetic spectrum, and the global climate system. Such "international commons" may be managed by a regional or global forms of governance.

A characteristic of this restructuring is maximum flexibility and coordination; an aim is UNITY IN DIVERSITY.

An overhaul and streamlining of governance is an essential task in adapting the society to the fluid information-intensive environment of the 21st century. Technology now offers us individually and collectively a remarkably powerful prosthesis of human brain. It makes "unity in diversity" and well-being in the global village realizable objectives, but their achievement demands innovative leadership and unprecedented institutional flexibility.


Harold A Linstone, is University Professor Emeritus of Systems Science at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon and Editor-in-Chief of Technological Forecasting and Social Change. This partial summary is extracted by Farhang Sefidvash from the article by the author entitled "Technology and Governance: An Introduction" published in Technological Forecasting, Vol.54, no.1, pp.1-10, January 1997.


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