The Economist has a great blog post up explaining why the importance of WikiLeaks transcends Julian Assange and his merry band of leakers. The magazine’s writer argues that we are undergoing a huge shift from paper documents that are heavy and tied to a place to electronic documents that can be moved with the click of a mouse. The writer goes on to argue that no amount of prosecuting Assange will change that fact.
This isn’t a defense of WikiLeaks; rather, it’s an explanation of the long term impact of what this transformation means.
I’ve seen virtually no mention of this anywhere, but The Economist is essentially bringing Canadian economist Harold Innis’ ideas about media having biases of lasting a long time or of being easy to distribute. Paper documents, which we are more used to, are heavy and hard to move. Electronic documents don’t have a physical form, and thus can be moved with incredible ease. (Marshall McLuhan was a lot sexier with “the medium is the message” and “global village,” but Innis makes a lot more sense to me.)
And that’s what we need to deal with when it comes to WikiLeaks. Even going so far as executing the leaker who supplied the documents or assassinating Assangewill not change this fundamental change in the nature of our documents.
As we think about WikiLeaks and the transformations in our society that it is a sign of, remember Truth 5 – New media are always scary.