Futurs d'antan, Futuribles Journal n° 302

Entreprises, travail - Société, modes de vie

L'information et la société interactive

The Macroscope by Joël de Rosnay was published in 1975 (in France). It is an unusual book, a mixture of theory, methodology, pedagogy and long-term vision, serious-minded and straightforward, making available to the general reader an approach based on complex thinking. It is neither an essay nor a political treatise. Although it discusses the future, it is not really a work of futurology, because explicit dates are not attached to the scenarios and mostly it is based on extrapolation from studies conducted in the United States.
The Macroscope makes use of a very powerful imaginary tool, the "macroscope", for observing the world and society and thus detecting clues about the future. To make it work, the author adopts the systemic approach, which was little known in France in the mid 1970s; this concentrates, in particular, on interdependencies, flows, and complementarities among individuals and with their environment.
Information is - along with energy and time - one of the three fundamental areas of knowledge that de Rosnay explores in order to illustrate the systemic approach. He makes the most of the fact that information exchange is not a zero-sum game; as a result, the relationships of complementarity and interdependence give rise to a network of concepts and people that is mutually reinforcing, not one that excludes. This is the basic driving force in the future society described in detail in the section of the book devoted to this topic.
What is presented is a new form of social organization, "society in real time". The author outlines the foreseeable technological developments involved and also stresses the need to think about what effects an interactive society might have. This new society in real time - of which he describes many aspects, such as being able to access information and to see the people with whom one is communicating at a distance, cable television and broadband, computer regulation of traffic and other urban flows, and computers that talk to each other - is also a remarkable foretaste of the Internet. Finally, Joël de Rosnay also discusses the substitution of telecommunications for transport, an issue that was highly topical at the time because of the first energy crisis of 1973, and he envisages already tailor-made goods and services on a mass scale. The society he describes seems quite familiar to us now, although it was not yet obvious in 1975.

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