Shahid Batalvi Speaks

with apology to Black Elk for he speaks first

What is contextually The Fourth Wave ?

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In his book, The Third Wave, first published in 1980, Alvin Toffler describes three types of societies, based on the concept of ‘waves’. The advent of each new wave pushes the older societies and cultures aside.

First Wave is the society after the agrarian revolution and replaced the first hunter-gatherer cultures. Second Wave is the society during the Industrial Revolution (ca. late 1600s through the mid-1900s). The main components of the Second Wave society are nuclear family, factory-type education system and the corporation. Toffler writes: "The Second Wave Society is industrial and based on mass production, mass distribution, mass consumption, mass education, mass media, mass recreation, mass entertainment, and weapons of mass destruction. You combine those things with standardization, centralization, concentration, and synchronization, and you wind up with a style of organization we call bureaucracy."

Third Wave is the post-industrial society. Toffler would also add that since late 1950s most countries are moving away from a Second Wave Society into what he would call a Third Wave Society. He coined lots of words to describe it and mentions names invented by him (super-industrial society) and other people (like the Information Age, Space Age, Electronic Era, Global Village, technotronic age, scientific-technological revolution), which to various degrees predicted demassification, diversity, knowledge-based production, and the acceleration of change.

Ever since the publication of The Third Wave, there has been speculation of what is or will be the contextual Fourth Wave in human society. Since the capabilities of the Third Wave via Information Age, Electronic Era and Global Village allow for individual opinion to be presented for review, discussion and scrutiny to any and all on the so called world wide web (which I actually refer to mankind’s tabula rasa), I will present my perspective on what I have been considering as the Fourth Wave.

The Fourth Wave is the untethered information ubiquity and access for all mankind. 

The information age has facilitated access to all information, anywhere, anytime but still somewhat in a tethered i.e. wired environment when observed from a global perspective. Harmonization of wireless technology platforms combined with evolution and convergence of services and service enablers will result in the untethered availability of any information to anyone globally. This will be the great equalizer for mankind. The impact and implications of this revolution on human society are going to be exponentially greater than those of the agrarian, industrial or information revolutions as such.

The fact that the impact, of the prior waves or revolutions, has taken substantial time to permeate the entire planet has been one of the key drivers of man made inequality and inequity, which in turn has led to an imbalance of access, development, production, supply, demand and consumption of our planet’s resources. This fourth wave will permeate into human society at a relatively faster pace and will result in becoming the great equalizer for mankind. The implication is not that it solves the geo-political or socio-economic ills of human society but provides a platform that serves as an equalizer. It would be no different than the use of the "Atlatl" as early as the Upper Paleolithic age (c. 30,000 BC) by Homo Sapiens. The Atlatl, as a device, became the social equalizer in that it required skill rather than mere muscle power. Information will become available to all through the Fourth Wave as an equalizer. Best use of this information, to overcome lingering global inequality and inequity, will also depend more on skill rather than mere muscle power.

Power structure of the world will fundamentally change in the Fourth Wave. It will become increasingly more and more challenging to continue to overtly or covertly disenfranchise the mass of society from the actual control structure, from an intra-nation perspective. Global economic or political advantage, competitive and comparative, maintained through control on information will rapidly diminish and geo-political balance will evolve from an inter-nation perspective.

My above hypothesis got somewhat reinforced, when I read this following article that was published in The New York Times today.

May 9th, 2009


A Pocket-Size Leveler in an Outsize Land

The New York Times
Sunday, May 9th, 2009


VERLA, India — Sometimes a technology comes along and crystallizes a cultural moment. Not since Americans and their automobiles in the 1950s, perhaps, have a people and a technology wedded as happily as Indians and their cellphones — small and big, vibrating and ringing, BlackBerry and plain vanilla.

And neither India nor the cellphone will be the same after the pairing. India now adds more cellphone connections than anyplace else, with 15.6 million in March alone. The cost of calling is among the lowest in the world. And the device plays a larger-than-life role here — more so, it seems, than in the wealthy countries where it was invented.

Of course, in so vast a country, India’s nearly 400 million cellphone users still account for only a third of the population. But the technology has seeped down the social strata, into slums and small towns and villages, becoming that rare Indian possession to traverse the walls of caste and region and class; a majority of subscribers are now outside the major cities and wealthiest states. And while the average bill, of less than $5 per month, represents 7 percent of the average Indian’s income, enough Indians apparently consider the sacrifice worth it: if present trends continue, in five years every Indian will have a cellphone.

What makes the cellphone special in India? It is partly that India skipped the land-line revolution, making cellphones the first real contact with the outside world for hundreds of millions of people. It is partly that, with few other machines selling so briskly, the cellphone in India is forced variously to be a personal computer, flashlight, camera, stereo, video-game console and day organizer as well. It is partly that India’s relative poverty compels providers to be more creative to survive.

But it is also that the cellphone appeals deeply to the Indian psychology, to the spreading desire for personal space and voice, not in defiance of the family and tribe, but in the chaotic midst of it.

Imagine what it was like — in the Pre-Cellular Age — to be young in a traditional household. People are everywhere. Doors are open. Judgments fly. Bedrooms are shared. What phones exist are centrally located.

The cellphone serves, then, as a technology of individuation. On the cellphone, you are your own person. No one answers your calls or reads your messages. Your number is just yours.

And yet the young Indian rebel, unlike his Western counterpart, does not rebel totally. He wants to savor his new individuality, but do so while sitting with his parents having dinner, listening to his grandmother implore him to get married. He listens, then taps a few keys on his cellphone to escape, then listens some more, and taps, and listens.

The cellphone appeals, too, because it plays into the Indian need to place people. Cellular differences today perform the role that forehead markings and strings around torsos and metal bracelets once did: announcing who outranks whom.

Small people have small phones, and big people have big ones. Small people have numerical-soup numbers, and big people have numbers that end in 77777 or something equally important-sounding or easy to remember. Small people have one phone, and big people have two. Small people set their phones merely to ring, and big people make Bollywood songs play when you call them.

The cellphone, in short, has made itself Indian. There are 65 times more cellphone connections than broadband Internet links, and the gap is widening. And so those who wish to influence Indians are not waiting for the computer to catch on, but are seeking ways to adapt the cellphone to the things Westerners do online.

Indian companies have invented methods, via simple cellphone text-messaging, to wire money to temples, pay for groceries, find jobs and send and receive e-mail messages (on humble phones with no data connection).

But the most intriguing notion is that cellphones could transform Indian democracy.

Even in this voting season — the results of a four-week election will be announced May 16 — Indians are famously cynical about their senior-citizen-dominated, dynastic, corrupt politics. The educated often sit out elections. But with cellphones becoming near universal, experiments are sprouting with the goal of forging a new bond between citizen and state, through real-time, 24-hour cellular participation.

In the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, citizens who file a right-to-information request can now check its status via text message. Anyone who has been to an Indian government office, begging men in safari suits to do their job, will welcome this service.

A number of civic groups, meanwhile, have devised cellphone-based ways of informing voters about candidates for Parliament. If you text your postal code to the Association for Democratic Reforms, it will reply with candidate profiles like this:

CANDIDATE A Crim. Cases – No, Assets 175373142, Liab 0, Edu graduate_professional

CANDIDATE B Crim. Cases – Yes (1), Assets 445015617, Liab 2489959, Edu illiterate

A new interactivity is dawning in the news media, too. Now, via cellphone, citizens are talking back to the press, creating a continuous feedback loop between reporters and the public opinion they shape. Channels solicit text messages during broadcasts to air opinions and to poll viewers. Comments crawl across the screen as the talking heads talk.

In 2006, a court acquitted Manu Sharma, a politician’s son, of the murder of a model, Jessica Lall, even though several witnesses testified that they had seen him shoot her. This was nothing new in India. But a groundswell of text-message anger made its way onto television screens and compelled officials to retry Mr. Sharma. He was eventually convicted and given a life sentence.

Imagine the future: a young woman sits on her sofa. With a few taps, she checks that her tax return has been cleared. With a few more, she learns that her local legislator is a criminal, and she switches to the other candidate. She wires a campaign contribution by text. And then she notices on television a debate on her favorite topic, and listens to the arguments and taps hurriedly into her phone words that will soon scroll across the screen.

It is not Athens, but it would be a start: in the world’s largest democracy, government not by passive consent, but by something like a conversation.


Written by Shahid Batalvi

May 10, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Posted in Analysis

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