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New Information Technologies: What Impact On Third World Environment? 

By Azore Opio

Ever since Marconi invented the first radio, Bell the first telephone and the former Soviet Union launched the first Sputnik satellite into space on the 4th day of October 1957, man’s psychology has never been the same. He took off from the planet and looking back for the first time, he realised that the earth is small, finite and very fragile. And, in terms of communication, almost overnight, "ecology" and the "global village" became household currency.

New communication technologies – television and computers have helped to fuel major social traits in the industrialised world. New information technologies continue to contribute to a growing sense of connection and world community in the 21st century. Millions of people can now communicate directly and cheaply through computers and the Internet, sharing access to the same information simultaneously.

This same confluence of technological and social forces is reflected in institutional environmental and social responses. So, communication technologies are critical players in environmental and social perceptions in themselves, quite apart from the messages they convey. The global village is being realised in ways sometimes hard to imagine ad it is a village its denizens increasingly understand and are beginning to care about.

Yet the primary purpose of most dominant popular media is consumerism, especially in the industrialised world. This is anathema to environmentally and socially balanced consumption. This creates a dichotomy between a strong social impulse on the importance of sustainable development yet still accepts mass media commercial promotion as normal, since profit is the dominant purpose of market-driven mass media.

Technological development is inevitable, but we must attend to the social impact of the new media. Yet we must not accept the messages conveyed as inevitable. If there is resolve and innovation, these tools can be harnessed to purposeful and "public" ends as well as commercial ones.

It is true that there has been a revelation in communications, especially visual communications. Already the most powerful medium in the industrialised countries, television, has emerged as the leading communication medium in the developing as well as the underdeveloped worlds. Although there are probably more television sets than toilets in the world, what is viewed on their screen is controlled by a very few people.

As it is, it is a medium dominated by the West. The hardware land-based transmitters, satellites and cable systems are largely owned and run by the media conglomerates of the industrialised nations. And the soft ware – films, videos and most recently video disc programmes – is produced predominantly by Western programme makers. And this seems to be the final death of our (African) social values.

Today, our youths who have a great deal of free time are huge consumers of images of bloody violence, uninhibited sex on TV, movies and in rap music although popular rap music hardly celebrates tenderness, gentleness or love. Rather, it is impoverished by gangster violence, gruesome murder and brutal sex.

The music, if it can be called that, is a little more than unmelodic noise with lyrics that range from the perverse through pernicious eroticism to the unmercifully debased sub-pidgin grunts, snarls and snorts that contrast starkly with Bach’s sound of God thinking. Some of the "rapists" don’t only extol criminality, they are themselves celebrated criminals. thus, the destruction of social values and standards now seems to be inherent in modern liberalism’s atrocities committed and popularised on the media.

Despite this monopoly of communication technology, television would still play a key role in promoting a global understanding of the fact that the world faces environmental and social crises. In the final years of the 1980s, the earth itself became a newsmaker with news programs leading on the hole in the ozone layer, burning rainforests and climate change.

However, that was on international television, which half of the world’s population is out of range from. Governments and development agencies must realise more fully that we are in an information and communications age. Media technologies are part of our environmental and social landscape and are as important as agriculture, health, politics and other sectoral matters.

Countries in cooperation with the scientific community should establish ways of employing modern communications technologies for effective public outreach, says Agenda 21. If humans are to survive as a species, we will have to learn to live with the world and in all its diversity without destroying whole species and ecosystems due to our own ignorance.

National governments must begin thinking of adapting to change, and know that change is a process of changing the mind. They must not be afraid of change or fixing their mistakes. That is part of responding to change. When you are in an age of volatile change, you have to have courage to change too.

Expression is central to all forms of human development and their cultures are diverse. This diversity can be expressed either healthily and dynamically or in such a bizarre and aberrant ways as associated with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, or through unsavoury tele-programmes.

If access and expression are integral to sustainable development, and television educates, then national governments should design better programmes to educate the masses about their environment and steer the public towards a sustainable society with the following ideas in their minds: respect and care for the community of life, improvement in the quality of human life, conservation of the earth’s vitality and diversity, improving individual attitudes and practices, developing communities with responsibility for their environment and coordinating mechanisms for reconciling development and conservation.

This ethical shift can be signalled to the citizens through an elaborate and proper use of the mass media more especially the television.

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