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  • Fredrik the Frisian

Digital Society Crossroads

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

We are at crossroads how digital societies will emerge, shaped by new evolving technologies causing a paradigm shift. Many securities change during this shift, causing huge uncertainties since it involves health, family, freedom, pension, safety and more …

Ref: Jose Ortega y Gasset: The revolt of the masses.

Spot on description how masses develop and since times have changed but not the people, still very valid.

The digital society shape depends on individual (your) choices. You are in driver seat, meaning take responsibility and make informed choices. Informed choices demand a search for information from different sources. This article is one source highlighting two main scenarios how the digital society will take shape.

Previous paradigm shift – Industrial revolution

Around 1800 steam engines/technology started the industrial revolution and caused massive shifts in power and society. Life became more secure, more food, better health but also major and minor wars using new technologies causing devastation at a larger scale. The sum of all individual decisions, made uninformed, or refusal to make them at all and delegating this power to governance bodies has led to history as we know it. Centuries of technological advancements has led to larger concentration of power, leading to history repeating itself, and larger scales of destruction. We are at crossroads again …

Digital Society Crossroads

Current paradigm shift – Digital revolution

Technological breakthroughs in nearly every scientific field, is creating a new society explained in Society 4.0 by Bob de Wit, professor of Strategic Leadership at Nyenrode

Business University

This evolves, meaning you cannot control it, not in speed and not in direction. All aspects of current societies are changing, without knowing where, when, and how they will crystallize. We call this a paradigm shift. Preventing ending up in chaos demands clear goals based on a vision. Then this shift maybe chaotic but it is going into a direction, preventing societies ending up in chaos.

How to decide a direction?

People evaluate choices presented by others who have a vision or introduce systems the digital society will materialize in. Engaging in decision making is directly linked to the degree of freedom you will possess in this digital future, and is the major issue.

Every individual is soon confronted with consequences of this paradigm shift. How to make the right questions leading to the right decisions is explained here.

The fundamental question – the decision making

Decisions making rights is why people have power. The fundamental question is how this decision making will be organized in a digital society. Either a few people decide for the majority, or many people take responsibility where both create a digital society shape. This shape is either global governance i.e. Technocracy or self-governance through digital ecosystems.

Technocracy versus Ecosystems, or a combination

These two scenarios, Technocracy and Ecosystems, are the ends of the spectrum which will unfold, meaning any combination is possible. Especially since people all over the globe have different cultures, reflected in their version of a digital society.

Based on history, people will preserve and use digital technology to extend their existing power base. People without power but with a strong sense of self-governing will develop ecosystems. These groups will lead these two scenarios and potentially find each other in a hybrid format.

Digital Governance creating Technocracy
Governance - Technocracy

All power centralized with only a few people deciding without feedback mechanisms we call a Technocracy. The power is centralized, this time globally enabled by technology. This first step to enable this is to give every human a digital identity and allowing or blocking access to societal services – the commons -, at their discretion. This technocracy build up is led by people in fear of losing power, leading to history repeating itself.

Governance indicates a high degree of control. Increased control on every aspect of life, society and business has accelerated the last years. In addition, the continuous strive for more, by all people, has led to a form of capitalism with profit as the main driver. Control, targets, incentives and optimization has led to an economy without any margins, meaning no buffers to absorb any deviations in either supply or demand.

Digitalisation enables all human and economic activity to be registered, monitored and controlled if any deviations should occur. This brings profit driven capitalism to another level especially when integrated with artificially intelligence.

Ecosystems delivering guidance to create digital societies
Ecosystems – Guidance

True eco(logy)systems resemble nature where all participants play a role and must trust each other due to a high degree of interdependency. Each participant is free to leave the ecosystem, decides the level of involvement and a dying business is normal, just like nature. In contrast business ecosystems are a network of suppliers with a high degree of cooperation. In each business ecosystem one participant is in control delivering the end product or service.

Guidance means support to make decisions. Ecosystems should present a range of options enabling people and businesses making decisions for themselves.

These ecosystems can represent a form of democracy making political parties with utopian views of society, based on their ideologies, something of the past. The ecosystem de-centralises the decision-making power using new technologies enabling people, if they want, to impact digital society development.

Finally, there will be countless ecosystems connected to each other performing different functions shaping multiple digital societies.


The commons - sharing and financing

One major aspect of societies are the commons. The commons are services like education health care, water, electricity, and security (police and army). These commons must be in service of the people who contribute, often by paying taxes. Societies leaning heavily on commons face the biggest challenges in shifting towards a digital society. Primarily because financing these commons are the heavily indebted states which will inevitably crash, again history repeating itself.

Role of the Nation State

Technological advances contribute to a stronger nation state. To govern or control a nation state, law and order are fundamental. This will impact the people’s behaviour and effect a nations culture. Culture is transparent and hardly questioned by people.

How the Nation State responds to the paradigm shift is to be seen, but so far it does not look promising. This topic will not be discussed further due to its complexity.

Without asking questions society cannot exist: by Socrates
Revolution of the mind

Despite the good intentions of people, we are very vulnerable for the feeling of power, once we have it. We get used to it and feel safe. Losing power creates uncertainty which causes fear. It triggers a very old instinct, from the first evolutionary step where humans managed to put themselves aside the natural food chain. This basic survival instincts still define our reactions in daily encounters with other people. That is why trust is so important, it means deep down survival. Instant reactions and surrendering trust to leaders, hoping for “things to get better”, is a recipe for history repeating itself. Revolution of the mind means becoming aware of ourselves, when we make instant decisions and when we contemplate. To build a digital future where people thrive we need primarily contemplation.

Final word

Describing these two scenarios does not mean it is either or. They will develop parallel, the outcome boils down to individual people making informed decisions or not. Not participating actively means you put your life and potential happiness in the hands of other people. The consequences of how the future unfolds can then only be accepted since you have no choice any more, you gave away the power to participate in deciding your own future.

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