John Blackham terrifies me. He’s not a scary chap — he’s neither large, nor particularly gruesome and yet in his quiet, unassuming way he has completely changed my world. Blackham is one of the founders of the New Zealand Intellectual Capital Foundation, known as NZ Inc. Let me give you an example: I’m a peasant. Actually, I’m fairly well mannered, but if you’ll imagine I’m a peasant working the land just before the Industrial Revolution, you’ll get the idea. There I am, tilling the soil, happy as a lark, if somewhat underfed, when suddenly a man in a suit tells me I must go and live in the city. Instead of slaving away in the fields from dawn to dusk I am to work in a big building surrounded by other people I hardly know pulling a single lever for a dozen or so hours a day. For this strange task I will be paid, but to me it’s a scary proposition. Disenfranchised is the term — that feeling of disconnection from what’s going on around me. No longer will I be doing what my parents did and their parents before them. No longer will I be assured that my children will continue in that tradition, regardless of whether it’s chandlery, farming, cheese making, blacksmithing or whatever. Everything I know will be affected by this change and there’s nothing I can do about it. I can throw my shoes in the machinery (the literal meaning of the term sabotage) but I can’t stop progress any more than I can stop the tide coming in. We now stand on that same cusp. We are moving from the industrial era into one where the rules are yet to be set. We don’t even have a name for it: information age, knowledge-based economy, KBE, new economy — they’ll all look pretty silly 50 years from now. Let me tell you what John Blackham told me: On education: "Children will leave school at the age of nine." On welfare: "We’ll see the end of welfare and the start of ‘wealth-fare’." On government: "Central government will disappear — we’ll become a collection of city-states." See what I mean? Let me expand on them a little. "Schools are set up to produce workers for the industrial age. The whole structure has to go." He’s not keen on the current education system, as you can see. He describes teachers as "Web browsers" saying they currently only give information to the students. "What we need are mentors or tutors who can show students how to learn. Once they can learn, let them loose." Having taught children the basics (not the 3R’s but comprehension, analysis and self expression) they can safely leave "school" at nine or so and begin a period of learning, where they are free to pursue "areas of interest". Social development is something schools have often struggled with — who else was bullied at school? — so why not take that role away from them? Schools aren’t supposed to be baby-sitters, they’re supposed to be places of education. Blackham also says education shouldn’t stop once you leave an institution, but continue throughout your life, which sounds like the kind of world I want to live in. I struggle with his ideas about welfare, though. I can see his point, and I think I even agree with it, but having been at the bottom of the heap and having had to rely on welfare to survive, I’m quite caught up in it emotionally . "The costs involved in feeding, clothing and housing is getting to the point where it’s so low as to be negligible. By 2030 the costs should be about 1% of income. The pressure is then lifted off the individual and society as a whole." He says then the drive is to get beyond the "McDonald’s world of basic survival" and into a world where you can create some serious wealth. Literally a paradigm shift. I have no trouble whatsoever with his views on the future of central government, however. Blackham believes local government has more impact on daily life. "If my sewerage system packs up, that lot in parliament don’t care — but my local council does." It’s ironic then that we are encouraged to vote in general elections but I don’t know anyone who bothers with the local stuff on a regular basis. I don’t know the names of more than a handful of councillors and I certainly didn’t vote for any of them. Yet they have a direct impact on my life while central government decides on our defence policy. As the Internet becomes even more pervasive, taxation will be harder for governments to track and the governments themselves become less relevant or even useful. City states would be far more practical. But as scary as his thoughts are, one thing scares me more. What if we stuff this up and get left behind? What if we can’t convince the status quo that this is the way to go? I don’t want my kids to grow up in a society where the best they can hope for is to ask: "do you want fries with that?" I had to do it often enough, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. Screw this up and we’ll be paying for it for generations to come. Paul Brislen is Computerworld’s Y2K reporter, phone: 0-9-377 9902. For publication copy letters to email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
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