Many of us who grew up in Sweden during the 1960s and 1970s were surrounded by the concepts of solidarity, justice, equality and engagement. We felt we lived in a good society, in an oasis of peace and stability. But in the 1980s, things began to change. The Swedish model of society was no longer the only option. Our childhood values collided with a new world of fast bargains, speculation, corruption and increasing racial segregation. Many Swedish citizens lost a little of their faith in the good society. The feeling of living in an oasis of peace died with the murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme. (Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot to death on a Stockholm sidewalk in 1986, and his assassin was never caught.)
Then came the 1990s, and the fast-developing information society. At first, it looked like an acceleration of the technical revolution, which neglected human cultural values. My university studies in literature, languages and culture seemed wasted and irrelevant in this new era. I felt unprepared for the job market; this was an age of economists and engineers.
Along with the focus on economics came the growth of intolerance and racism. This was not what people really wanted. The need for an ethical, tolerant and fair information society became apparent.
This is where I met the Stockholm Challenge Award and discovered there was room for a humanist inside the IT sector after all. In the heart of what I thought was a society of nerds, near-sightedly scrutinizing their circuit diagrams, Ive met the most enthusiastic people, eagerly contributing to a better society for everyone.
I learned that information technology can provide the foundation of a more democratic and less class-ridden society, because the new virtual communities have little place for traditional social hierarchies. New social structures emerge, and voices are raised against the possible "e-segregation" and the danger of a digital divide. Stockholm has become a hub in this movement, offering a global arena for IT pioneers from all over the world, providing a unique opportunity to showcase projects and create new networks.
The Stockholm Challenge is not about competition; its about sharing a vision of the future. Many enthusiasts in all regions of the world take part in the effort to bridge the gap between information-rich and information-poor countries and groups within our societies, with creativity and innovative thinking.
My mother claims she never said that life was fair, so I guess it was the impact of the political climate in Sweden during the 70s that made me -- and many of my generation -- feel injustice so strongly. For those of us who still hold the belief in a better world, the Stockholm Challenge is an opportunity to help make it so.
[Editors Note] The Stockhom Challenge is a competition in which cities and regions around the world compete for recognition of IT innovation in government. Other cities have created versions of the challenge, as governments recognize the importance of information technology to the future. Project finalists will be on exhibit in Stockholm Sept. 25.]