The Information Society: From Gutenberg to S.W.I.F.T.

Wriston, Walter B.


Today, as in the past, technology continues to move faster than the political processes. As small earth stations sprout from the roofs of suburban homes and fiber optics becomes a reality, it is easy to get lost in the scientific details and to lose sight of the fundamentals.

Sound banking business is and always has been based on good information received in a timely fashion. The explosion of technology which made the rubricated ledger go the way of the buggy whip did not change the need to record valid numbers in a clear, usable way-and the need for liberty to communicate those numbers to others. There has always been a balance, sometimes something which could be described as an uneasy truce, between the government censor and people who need information to run their own affairs.

Today, following an old tradition, the government censor is reaching for new tools to stop, slow down, or tax the flow of electrons which carries information across political borders. But whether the method employed is burning books in the village square or stopping the flow of data across borders by taxes or other administrative procedures, the result is the same: The nervous system of civilization is slowed down and made more costly.

If we honestly assess the forces at work today, none of us can be sanguine that the future of the information revolution will automatically work toward efficiency and progress.

The impulse to regulate is as old as government itself, and in the area of communications it has usually succeeded. Nor has business always resisted.

  • The document was created from the speech, "The Information Society: From Gutenberg to S.W.I.F.T.," written by Walter B. Wriston for the S.W.I.F.T. Conference SIBOS '82 on 23 September 1982. The original speech is located in MS134.001.005.00004.
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