Doing Business in an Age of Electronic Miracles and Wonder

Wriston, Walter B.



The power of electronic information has had dramatic impact on world politics and the conduct of foreign policy, and its effect is no less important on business. Walter B. Wriston, retired chairman of Citicorp, offered his views on management and the information society at an awards ceremony sponsored by American Management Systems Inc. and the Graduate School of Industrial Administration, Carnegie Mellon University, on May 19 in New York.

Recently "The New York Times" carried a story about a videotape that was circulating in Moscow showing Mrs. Gorbachev using her credit card to purchase expensive jewelry and clothes in Paris.

Since videotapes and VCRs are so common in the United States, probably few of us stopped to think of the immense consequences that might follow from opening up such an uncensored channel of communication, not only deep in the heart of Russia, but in this instance relating to the wife of the General Secretary himself. Since closed societies rely heavily on the tight control of information flows to stay in power, this unusual breach of censorship has implications far beyond the incident itself.

A short time before this, on the other side of the world, those familiar with events leading to the fall of Marcos in the Philippines relate that the biggest selling videotape in Manila was an uncensored film of the assassination of Benigno Aquino. No matter what the official story was, the TV screens presented a vivid picture of that tragic event.

There is a certain irony in the fact that the most modern technology is being skillfully used to impact the political direction of some of the least advanced societies. A study of this new phenomenon by the Ganleys at Harvard concludes that: "videocassette users are following in the footsteps of audiocassettes, which were an integral and essential tool for fomenting and carrying out Ayatollah Khomeini's Iranian Islamic revolution."

If the power of information, delivered electronically, can have this big effect on world politics, and on the conduct and management of foreign policy - and it certainly can - it is time to think about what it can do and is doing to business.

It is not too far from the truth to say that the very concept of society's capital base is in the process of changing once again. The skills of the hunter, which gave way to those of the farmer and the miner, are now moving toward those who master information.

The shift from an industrial to an information society impacts not only the types and quality of jobs, but also the value of raw materials, the importance of geographical locations, and the nature of business and politics. Will a few pounds of common sand in a microchip or fiber optic cable replace tons of copper with a consequent effect on the world-wide mining business? Will the mobility of capital moving across borders with the speed of light impact forever the concept of national sovereignty? These, and many more questions crowd in on us if we have the courage to face them.

  • This document was created from the article, "Doing Business in an Age of Electronic Miracles and Wonder," written by Walter B. Wriston for the June 22, 1987 edition of "American Banker." The original article is located in MS134.003.027.00002.
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