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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 15:03 03/09/2007
July 28, 2003

An Evolutionary View of Modernization: The Last Modern Perspective

Shumpei KUMON (Executive Director, GLOCOM)

(Abridged version of the paper prepared for International Conference on the Information Society in East Asia, which would have been held in Seoul, June 27, 2003, but was cancelled due to SARS incidents)
[Prof. Kumon's full paper is available in PDF Form]

Today's global society clearly is experiencing a sea change, not in one but in many senses and aspects simultaneously. Many people tend to look at this change as a transition from modern civilization to a "post-modern" civilization. Alvin Toffler, among others, talks about the rise of the "Third Wave" of information revolution after the First Wave of agricultural revolution and the Second Wave of industrial revolution. This view is not only a typical tripartite of pre-modern, modern, and post-modern, but also a highly technology = economics-oriented view of evolution of civilizations.

However, civilizations are also driven by thoughts = religions, and few will doubt that the great "pre-modern" Arabic (Islam), Slav (Greek Orthodox), Indian (Hindu), and Chinese (Taoist) civilizations have been more religion-oriented than technology-oriented. This suggests that if we are really going to enter a post-modern era, the civilization that will follow or replace today's Modern Civilization will also be thoughts = religion-oriented. In fact, Modern Civilization can be characterized as a civilization in which incessant instrumental empowerment in our means and capability to achieve goals takes place, based on what may be called the three pillars of modern values (cultures): progressivism, instrumentalism, and libertarianism. In contrast, the great religious civilizations of the pre-modern era were more interested in achieving a certain set of predetermined goals based on the three pillars of religious values (cultures): sustenance, orthodoxy, and commandments.

But then what is going on in the process of today's sea change? Nothing other than breathtaking progress in science and technology, as well as our powers to communicate and collaborate. Even though we may be casting doubt on our belief in infinite physical progress, most of us do firmly believe that we can continue to be empowered intellectually. For this reason I want to argue that we are still in the modern era. Indeed we are rapidly entering the last phase--the maturation phase--of Modern Civilization, simultaneously as a new post-modern civilization may be burgeoning, gradually and slowly. Let me therefore name my perspective "Last-Modern", and explain it more fully.

To summarize the main themes of this paper, my central contention is that Modern Civilization has entered its maturation phase since the mid 20th century. Starting with this theme we can draw out its several implications.

(1) As Modern Civilization matures there will gradually emerge its successor, Wisdom Civilization. But it will take quite a while before the new civilization truly materializes.

(2) In the meanwhile maturation of Modern Civilization will trigger a new kind of empowerment process, namely, the informatization process in which intellectual empowerment takes place. In this sense modernization is not over yet. It would be more appropriate to characterize the present era as the "last-modern" era rather than the "post-modern" era.

(3) However industrialization, the breakthrough phase of modernization, is not completely over yet. Actually industrialization itself is now maturing as the Third Industrial Revolution, overlapping with emergence of informatization.

(4) Regarding this Third Industrial Revolution, two processes are proceeding simultaneously:

(a) it is entering its breakthrough subphase giving rise to new leading industries, the "BNC" industries, and
(b) its emergence subphase, led by computer industries, is maturing, giving rise to pervasive computing based on wireless Internet and ubiquitous mobile devices and their various applications.

(5) Informatization emerges as the First Information revolution in which two processes are proceeding simultaneously:

(a) it is entering its breakthrough subphase giving rise to a new social game, the "wisdom" game, and
(b) its emergence subphase, led by netizens and NGO-NPOs, is maturing, giving rise to a new form of netizens, Smart Mobs (the term coined by Howard Rheingold), who make extensive use of newly created mobile communications infrastructure and related devices and applications to promote their communication and collaboration, eventually accomplishing a socio-political revolution--the netizens revolution.

The key issue for this revolution is how and by whom should the complex of information infrastructure, devices, and applications be created and governed so that "innovation of ideas" may take place freely and its outcomes be shared as equally as possible. In light of such a perspective we can see why the following two issues have strategic importance. One is how should spectrum be distributed and used. The other is how should fundamental social rights of information society--namely "information rights" such as privacy, security, and priority--be defined, managed, and coordinated with other core social rights of Modern Civilization: sovereignty and property ownership.

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