The web we weave

A FEW weeks ago, the Prime Minister launched the country's most ambitious IT project yet, the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), which boasts of a fully integrated cybercity -- wired, hip and happening.

Experts from the fields of computing, economics and science, together with several senior ministers, sat and discussed the pros and cons of embracing a digital economy.

Oracle Corp chief operating officer Ray Lane pointed out that our PM "gets it." While many organisations spend time and effort trying to convince their CEOs, let alone the head of a nation, to embrace technology -- we have done it. Our PM is convinced it is the way to go.

Yes, we are on our way to becoming an information-rich society.

Within the 750sq km area of the MSC, limitations such as employment and ownership restrictions have been lifted.

Instead, its occupants will enjoy a liberalised financial environment sans requirements of local content, ownership or partnership.

"Cyberlaws" will be created. Information, to the true spirit of the information superhighway, will flow freely within the testbed envisioned by the Prime Minister.

Yet, there was a missing factor in all that grandeur promised by the building and birth of the MSC. Part of the "information" aspect was glaringly absent.

For an information-based event to build an information-based society, there was strangely no sign of the Information Ministry, that very body which polices the airwaves and abhors the elements of violence, horror and sex in our entertainment.

We are, according to a recent statement by the minister himself, a fairly insular and closed society and cannot deal with the free flow of information.

We are a conservative society, governed by conservative laws. We are constantly made aware of the need to be sensitive towards one another's cultural values.

Now, how do we go about exposing this "sensitive'` society to a free flow of information especially since attempts have been made to curb "harmful elements" that reach our desktops via the Internet?

If the MSC is a testbed where by its very nature mistakes will be made and lessons learnt, then we are in it for the long haul.

We have to review the legislation in place today and create new laws to cater to future needs.

Imagine the impact when amendments are made to the Publications & Printing Presses Act, Official Secrets Act, Copyright Act, etc -- for how long can we keep cyberlaws distinct and apart from our everyday legislation?

Where do we draw the line, especially in the multimedia business where knowledge workers are used to pushing limits and breaking barriers?

And the next question arises: just what is a knowledge worker, anyway? The long-haired guy who stays up all night, tucking in a takeaway pizza, crunching data to produce elegant code? Or some horn-rimmed consultant with starched shirt and tie, spouting flatulent phrases like "paradigm shift," "rightsizing" and "re-engineering"?

The floodgates are now open for anyone's definition of a knowledge worker to enter the MSC.

In fact, from 1998 onwards, all the knowledge worker will need is a smartcard which will contain an individual's ID, electronic signature and access to government, banking, credit, telephone, transport facilities and more that will allow him/her to walk in and out of the country whenever s/he pleases.

So what are the knowledge workers here for? If it is to create content, then of what kind, and to what markets?

We know that the biggest seller is entertainment.

Why entertainment? Because it sells to the largest market segment -- the consumer.

Furthermore, people seek to be entertained. Leisure makes up a great part of our lives and building entertainment tools is not easy.

It would be excellent if the MSC closes the gap between Silicon Valley and Hollywood and becomes a spot where ideas are sown, nurtured and grown.

Say a media and technology park as opposed to an industrial park. Where ideas are born, traded, experimented with. Where discussions abound, where its residents are not restricted and are allowed to fully realise their creative endeavours.

Where the sky's the limit. And where multimedia truly becomes the medium.

Anita Matthews

Published on Aug 27, 1996, Star Publications (Malaysia) Berhad. All rights reserved.