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This investigation is motivated by the recent unprecedented advance in information technology. People that once had no way of communicating due to geographic barriers can now do so in an increasingly convenient and inexpensive manner. The model pursued by Van Alstyne and Brynjolfsson attempts to model this process of increasing access in an attempt to uncover what the eventual consequences will be.
The popularly envisioned "Global Village" is a possible outcome of this process. As we have seen in the model, under certain circumstances, increasing access can lead to a less Balkanized society. This is particularly true when access is small compared to an agent's channel count.
On the other hand, increasing access can lead to increasing fragmentation in society. Increased access allows agents more and more freedom to exercise their preferences. If agents tend to seek out more similarity in their connections than is locally available, increasing access will lead to a more Balkanized society. Local heterogeneity can become replaced by a virtual community of homogeneous agents.
We now ask whether we should even care about the level of Balkanization in our society. Van Alstyne and Brynjolfsson discuss this question and find that Balkanization can have both positive and negative effects: As access increases, individuals may wind up with more and more specialized information. Highly-specialized and like-minded individuals in every field of knowledge will have the ability to collaborate together. Perhaps this arrangement will lead to the greatest overall knowledge output, benefiting society on the whole. On the other hand, over-specialization may prove destructive to knowledge growth, since many important discoveries come from combining differing fields of knowledge. For example, Watson and Crick determined the structure of DNA by combining skills from zoology and X-ray diffraction. The Alvarez theory that an asteroid caused the extinction of the dinosaurs required knowledge of both astrophysics and geology. Many other examples exist that demonstrate the value of combining different fields of knowledge.
Clearly, this investigation is not sufficient to determine if increasing Balkanization is desirable or not. Like most global phenomena, increasing access will have a large number of consequences, not all foreseeable. On the other hand, national policy decisions made today can affect the future of communications technology. This model shows that the popular notion of a Global Village is not a guaranteed outcome of increasing access. It is necessary to recognize the variety of consequences information technology can lead to when deciding what course we should follow today.
Our model is a very simple one. Yet there are many parameters that can be controlled to investigate different results. In this tutorial, we only allowed agents to begin with one type of knowledge. This has simplified the discussion, but also limited the possible phenomena we can model. We have also assumed that agents of different types are randomly arranged geographically. We have ignored the possibility that similar agents tend to exist in geographical clusters. Our hope is that readers will desire to continue in their own investigations. These types of questions can be pursued in the main simulator and also in the Balkanization Wizard. In the wizard, societies can be created and connected using all of the parameters described here. The Balkanization Measures are also available for observing societies.
Clicking the button below enters the Balkanization Wizard and closes this tutorial. Alternatively, the next topic presents a technical appendix for this tutorial.
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