“Sustainable development” is a postmodern socio-environmental concept first officially defined in 1987 as the “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations”. Essentially, this definition links economic development to the sustainability of human livelihood.
The postmodern era began with important historical events, including the introduction to the internet as a tool in global communication; the emergence of an environmental movement triggered by concerns over global warming and resource sustainability; nanotechnology revolution; globalization of social and economical trends; and a new era in the democratic movement through the fall of the Berlin wall.
All of these events are a reaction to the blindness, rigidity, and harmony that was experienced during the high-point of the modern era, when development was valued purely for economical merits, while socio-environmental consequences were ignored. Hence, the concept of sustainable development was born in order to bring vision, harmony, and flexibility to development projects.
This vision expanded our scope both in time and space; temporally, we saw how the livelihood of future generations is tied to the present, and spatially, we realized that local effects have global consequences. We appreciated the importance of being flexible and tolerable in the environmental, social, political and technological realms. Lastly, the development of concepts such as “mosaic” were brought about by the urge for harmony, in order to celebrate cultural diversities.
Today, cyber space has the greatest potential to bring humans together to unite them and facilitate the collaboration of problem solving. To enhance the role of the internet in interfacing sustainability and environmental issues, we must create modalities such as internet “charrettes” or collaborative discussion sessions. To make the cyber space more effective, we need to translate sustainability notions and definitions into cyber-friendly parameters through which humans and computers can efficiently communicate.
Lastly, as definitions need to evolve in order to ensure relevance and applicability to real situations, the simple definitions of sustainability should be expanded to include an effective interface with the complexity of tools in the cyber space.
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Mory M. Ghomshei, 2009