21stC is. . .

21stC home page

Welcome to the 21st century,
and welcome to 21stC

IN FIVE YEARS we will begin a new century and a new millennium. The pace of social, scientific, and intellectual change has long been accelerating, of course; to the student of society, rapid change is hardly news. Yet there is something about the passing of a date with a few zeroes in it that makes people think in terms of revitalizations and rebirths or, in some circumstances, of cataclysms and end times. Perhaps we are a system-making species, looking relentlessly for order and imposing it wherever we can, sometimes arbitrarily. But our calendars are probably not the only things that will change after the year 2000.

Our approach to information will certainly change. More precisely, it will keep changing. We already face a time famine, a data glut, an opinion overdose, a fax backup, and an Infobahn pileup. To survive, function, and prosper in such an atmosphere, the citizen of the 21st century will have to become expert at selecting sources of information and directing attention to those that truly deserve it. "Information wants to be free," as the cyberspace slogan goes, but with that freedom comes a heavy responsibility for the user of that information. Too many channels and too many subjects clamor for your time; you will increasingly face decisions about where to allocate your scarcest resource, your own awareness. The types of information and forms of access to it in the marketplace of ideas-indeed, the form that that marketplace will take-will have profound effects on our democratic institutions, personal liberties, and collective economic and social well-being.

One thing certain not to change in the 21st century is society's dependence on the advance of knowledge through research: all forms of research, broadly defined, from the physical, biological, and social sciences to the humanities to the abstractions of mathematics and cybernetics. Increasingly, too, research is taking an interdisciplinary form, crossing the boundaries of academic fields as readily as information crosses national borders in the electronic age. Inside and outside research institutions like Columbia, the 21st century citizen will need to consider the meaning and achievements of research, with depth of detail and breadth of perspective.

This is why Columbia has launched 21stC, the publication that examines the research enterprise at this institution and the ideas that flow from that enterprise throughout the world. We've given our editors and writers an explicit mission: Tell the readers not only what Columbia researchers are doing but why it matters. With an impressive, diverse lineup of authors and ideas in its inaugural issue, 21stC attempts to fulfill that mission. I invite you to explore this issue of 21stC and the accompanying print edition. The Columbia research community and the community at large deserve the kind of productive dialogue that this publication can provide.

--Jonathan R. Cole, Provost

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