Building peace in the minds of men and women


The beginning of World Communications Year finds us living through a communications-information revolution with profound implications for every aspect of human society. Our homes, schools and hospitals, our cultural and leisure activities, the working environment of office, farm andfactory, the very concept of "work" itself, will all be radically transformed before the century is out. So far-reaching do these transformations promise to be that historians of the future are likely to look back on the present decade as a turning point in (he evolution of human society.

Smooth transition to the new informationrich, communications-based society will not be easy. The way we handle the new communications technologies will be all important and it is with an analysis of the cultural, social, economic and political problems involved that this issue of the Unesco Courier begins.

For the Third World, the establishment ofsound communications infrastructures (which it is the prime objective of the World Communications Year to promote) a sine qua non of development. But although the new technologies look temptingly like the breakthrough that could help to close the development gap, it is only natural that, for countries that have suffered the colonial experience, hopes for the future should be mingled with serious doubts and fears.

The central section of this issue is concerned with the electronic "nuts and bolts" ofthe communications-information revolution which has been brought about by the rapid convergence ofa number of new technologies. The most important of these are: the development of cheap, reliable microprocessors with vast informationhandling capacity which permit wide spread and easy access to information networks and data banks and offer enormous educational opportunities; telecommunication satellites that make possible lowcost, long-range, transmissions; audiovisual recording and playback devices that permit decentralized production and presentation of multimedia material; the development of optical fibres which make possible piped, interference-free transmission of huge quantities of information, entertainment and educational programmes; and, finally, the expansion and more efficient use ofthe broadcasting frequency spectrum which has made possible the rapid development of local and "citizens' band" type radio broadcasting.

Experience shows that children all over the world, whatever their social background are fascinated by computers and can handle with ease a device which many adults still regard with a reticence bordering on fear.

The computer's educational possibilities are immense, provided that it is programmed to respect the user's linguistic background and cultural identity, a point on which children themselves have strong views.

Finally, the last section of this issue of the Unesco Courier looks more closely at the practical contribution communications technology can make to development, points out some of the pitfalls to be avoided in what looks like being the most massive transfer of technology ever attempted, and gives concrete examples of what Unesco has done and is doing in the struggle to introduce a new and more equitable international communication order.

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March 1983