The power of connectivity is transforming existing economic, political, and social structures. In a word, the Internet is disrupting established systems. The resulting uncertainty is as much a risk as an opportunity.We are on the hedge of a new frontier.
In December 2003, Sir Arthur C. Clarke noted that “satellite television, Internet, mobile phones, email – all these are technological responses to a deep-rooted human desire to communicate and access information. Having achieved unprecedented progress in the field of communications during the past half century, we now have to pause to think of social, cultural and intellectual implications of what we have created.”
As economies and societies are increasingly becoming data-driven, interactions between individuals, the groups they belong to and the institutions that govern them are evolving dramatically.
The transformational power of connectivity is immense and resonates far beyond technology itself, as the Internet is changing existing dynamics of economic, social and political construct.
Preconceptions of accountability, transparency, privacy, and even democracy are being reconsidered. Political systems, the fabrics of social contracts and the nation state are being challenged by an ever growing desire to know, share and control.
As a result, the enabling power of the Internet is blurring physical borders between countries and peoples, between governments and citizens, between businesses and consumers; what used to create wealth, welfare, influence and power is no longer certain. And this uncertainty is as much a risk as an opportunity.
These evolutions are fuelled by new technologies that disrupt established systems. In this regard, the Internet is no more different than the printing press, the telephone, the light bulb, the locomotive or the airship. These inventions not only served the technical purpose that their creators intended them to have, but also revolutionized systems all together.
The telephone, for instance, provided a new technical way of communicating, but it also generated new rules of etiquette – a new societal way of behaving and communicating. The light bulb transformed factories, cities and homes; it changed the way people live, work and interact. Hence the power of technology lies not only in its mechanics, but also in its capacity to transform the environment it is used in.
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– whether it is between individuals, between businesses, between machines, or between citizens and governments. Information is participation. And participation leads to contribution.
In December 2013, Jason Pontin, Editor of the MIT Technology Review, argued that these new technologies “don’t solve humanity’s big problems.” Indeed, they don’t. But perhaps their purpose is less in solving problems for now, than in creating opportunities for collective contribution.
Ultimately, throughout the world, the big question is one of control: control of information, control of its flow, and protection of that control. As Sir Arthur cautioned, “it is vital to remember that information – in the sense of raw data – is not knowledge; that knowledge is not wisdom; and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to all of these.” In essence, the Information Age is much more than a big problem to be solved; it is humanity’s New Frontier.