It could be argued that the survival of the fittest stance is, after all, just a rhetorical (in the sense of merely linguistic) feature of infotech, that it doesn't have any material effects, but this is not the case. Within educational institutions, for example, these effects are emerging not as the result of a conscious adoption of the perspective of a radical individualism but through decisions of administrators that are apparently based on more pragmatic criteria.
The net result of these decisions is, however, to mark the first stages in a shift away from a belief in a public responsibility to provide information, toward a belief in making the individual responsible for locating necessary information. University administrations around the country are rapidly placing large amounts of official information on-line: course syllabi, enrollment statistics, financial aid information, even the university catalogue.
The rationale for this is obvious: instead of a university chewing its way through several forests in order to send prospective applicants catalogues and paperwork for applying for scholarships, they can be directed to a gopher address or a World Wide Web site where all this information is permanently displayed and updated far more regularly than paper information could be. Making information available in this way is more convenient, for administrators certainly, but also for prospective applicants who have on-line access.
But what about those who don't have on-line access? We are so used to hearing about the millions of new users of the Internet in the US alone that we forget the number is still relatively small when compared with those who have no access, even more so when compared with those who still lack any training in computers. For them applying to college will still mean being dependent upon the selection of college catalogues subscribed to by their counselling offices, those held in their local libraries, or in spending money requesting catalogues and completing their applications in the old-fashioned way. The severe budgetary constraints being faced by many schools and local libraries, coupled with the disincentive of university information available on-line will inevitably mean cutbacks in off-line information.
Furthermore, it is often not an inexpensive proposition for those who are on-line to access this kind of information. University administrators exist in an environment where they don't have to pay for their Internet access and tend to forget that this is a privilege not granted to many users. While basic rates for Compuserve and America On-line tend to be reasonable, the amount of monthly time that this buys disappears rapidly when one begins to undertake complex searches of the Net or embark upon time-consuming file transfers. There is also every indication that the coming of the National Information Infrastructure will see the implementation of cost-recovery for basic Net services.
At the moment, university information available over the Net is still a supplement to the information provided through more traditional means but it is not difficult to envisage a time when electronic information will have superseded paper information. And it will do so because the end result of these changes is to shift the costs of provision of information away from the provider and onto the user; and while not directly the result of increasing efforts on the part of most public educational institutions to shift the costs of education entirely onto the student, placing university information on-line is certainly not incompatible with it.