The future of ‘government’

Tuesday 30 October 2012, 12.30am HKT


GUUS GOORTS is an affable Dutchman who runs a language learning portal in Singapore called Yago. This is his first (and exclusive) article for The Naked Listener’s Weblog in which he ponders over the future of ‘government’ in face of our world of information overload.

The Naked Listener himself could have written something about this, but it’ll just be too longwinded and nowhere near as concise or good in quality. Gentle Reader, you ARE in luck for a change.

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Why ‘government’ will become obsolete

Google’s Eric Schmidt said in 2010 that we now produce as much information in two days as that in all the years from the dawn of civilisation up to 2003 combined — a mind-boggling stat.

In other words, information is hardly a scarcity anymore. The issue now is how to find the most trustworthy information. Or whether it’s actually trustworthy to begin with.

While the rivers of information flow and grow daily, we’re just starting to adjust ourselves to the new reality of information overload.

Here are just three examples why ‘government’ is going to be largely obsolete in future:—

Government investment agencies exist to help businesses identify business partners locally and abroad. Yet a quick search through LinkedIn is already a quicker help for you to identify prospects — with that extra ‘edge’ of giving you a better idea of who you’re actually dealing with because you already know those people there who know other people who knows still others you can and could connect with.

Say you’re in school and take school maths. Your teacher is already assigned to you. You can’t request a different teacher, no matter how much you hate his style, or guts. Yet on YouTube, you could find a fearsome number of explanations for any possible mathematical concept you’re interested in, and choose the ones that gel for you.

Education authorities inspect and certify schools (particularly private schools) in our countries. Most of us still care whether that job is done properly and transparently. From what I know of this certification process here in Singapore, it’s a paper exercise in which the school in question just needs to submit ‘this’ permit or ‘that’ certificate. No one from the Ministry of Education comes to the school and talks to the students to see if teachers there are passionate, effective or just plain agreeable in what they do. Yet just by visiting a school review site, the average person can get a better idea of the school’s standing than romping through official government education reports.

Those and other responsibilities of our governments are replaceable by Internet sources, sometimes with qualitative improvements over the existing situation. The idea is that, if people come together and share, it gives us a much better knowledge base than any ‘analogue’ human organisation could do. In other words, government needs to employ more ‘spot checks.’ The Internet can be used to capture life itself.

‘Filter through the bullshit’

Sure enough, we know most of the information on the Internet is (shall we say) crap. We’re all still trying to figure out how to filter through the bullshit (never mind filter out) and bring the best information to the surface. I think we’re making progress nonetheless.

We’re not in the clear yet. We still stuck in many of our old-fashioned ways. At the moment, the new stuff coming from new technologies makes many things possible — but not probable yet.

A few days ago, someone on my train ride was using an iPad as a paper substitute to do long division. To me, that’s a bit like taking a brand-new car, lashing reins and harness to it, and getting horses to pull it. Are we going back to Square One again?!

Back to Square One by habit?

In the early days of the automobile, some places required that
motorcars be driven with horses to comply with road regulations.
One such place was Nantucket (an island in Cape Cod, Massachusetts),
which banned entry to motorcars for 18 years (1900–1918)
unless and until a driver fitted his motorcar with a horse.

.

Ultimately for the good

WE HAVE TO ADAPT to what’s possible in order to make it probable. Here are some changes (adaptations?) that I foresee taking place, certainly in my lifetime:—

Schooling no longer will be about acquiring knowledge. It’ll be more about skills building and learning by doing. One of the most important skills in future is how to find information; our information overload of today makes this a more-needed skill than it ever has been in the past. Another important skill is the capability (as opposed to just ‘ability’) to distinguish the good from the bad — to sort the wheat from the chaff, the bullshit from the gems. Today’s information-laden world is crap and full of crap. Then, after all that, we need the skill to put information to practical use.

Sources of information that were (and are) historically and conventionally trusted by all will become less and less relevant over time. Why ever should I subscribe to a newspaper unless it offers something I cannot find elsewhere?

Truth isn’t absolute anymore. We all know only too well that whatever viewpoint we hold or want to support, we can find plenty of likeminded opinions and facts to back it up. To stay sane (or some semblance of it), it becomes more and more important to be able to realise there are just no ‘neutral’ sources of information.

Just those three changes sound scary enough. I see the changes will ultimately be for the good of all. Information and opportunities are, and will continue to be, available to more and more people in more and different ways. Those and other realignments will allow people to go beyond relying on the élites of society to make bigger, useful and useable contributions to society.

Which scares us more, information scarcity or information abundance? Which is scarier, the change from scarcity to abundance of information or the opportunities that could come from the change?

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Originally from the Netherlands, Guus Goorts is based in Singapore since 2006. After several years in the field of corporate training, he founded Yago Languages — a resource website for language learners — and runs a language learning blog of his own.

Text © Guus Goorts / Yago.sg, 2012. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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2 Responses to “The future of ‘government’”

  1. Ed Hurst said

    Good choice for a post, Rob. It accords with my own views, as noted in my “Laptop Oracles.”

    Like

  2. […] Read my guest post on the Naked Listener Weblog. […]

    Like

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