The Age of Distraction

In the US election year now beginning, more than government is at stake. Everywhere politics is changing beyond recognition by the communications revolution.

Radio and television were the advance guard of this new world. With satellites, television became a global, interlocking network. The Internet duplicated that feat for computers, which add to passive viewership the possibility of interactive participation with what is on the screen. With the invention of the photo-optic cable, the television set, the computer, and heaven knows what else, may soon be conjoined into a single device. And "virtual reality" - the three dimensional simulation of experience - has already debuted.

There is nothing to compare this new environment to except the natural environment. Computers have "viruses," and there is talk of the "natural evolution" of software, which, like Darwin's organisms, will fend for themselves in the new environment - virtual organisms evolving in virtual seas.

Warfare, too, is being reinvented. One army may send its hostile "information" (viruses, etc.) or other means to attack an enemy country's information. A modern nation whose military information is corrupted or disarmed - its satellites flying out of their orbits, its computer screens foaming with nonsense, its missiles curving back to strike its own cities - could be as thoroughly humbled as one smashed by physical bombs. Iraq learned something of this in the Gulf War as American "smart bombs" destroyed Iraqi command and control links.