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09 June 2015

The New Digital Age: Governing the New World

Estimated reading time Time 3 to read

What kind of place will the world be when technology determines everything we do? Society will be different on every level. It’s not just the things we already imagine that will change, the ones where the use of technological tools is most obvious: work, transport, healthcare, education, leisure, etc. Other aspects of society will be transformed as well because people will be different: new technologies are going to redraw the map of power.

Five billion people connected to the Internet and a connection speed 64 times faster than it is at present. This is the scenario behind the hypothesis formulated by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, authors of the book The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business.

The change will particularly affect the least developed countries. The magnitude of the activity that will take place online will force to govern the world on two parallel planes: on the net and outside of it. More informed citizens, with more arguments and a greater capacity for mobilization, will impose a new balance of power. Nations will have to adapt their diplomatic relations.

The authors represent two highly influential generations in the new technologies sector. Schmidt was CEO of Google and advises the government of the United States on technology issues. Cohen is head of Google Ideas and according to TIME magazine one of top 100 influential people in the world.

People, privacy and power

Making governors and the governed aware of the inevitable change is one of this book’s goals. For the authors, people are still key, in spite of the technological maelstrom and automation: good leadership will be more important than ever in the digital age. In a world in which there will be more profiles on social media and online users than living people, data management will be a crucial issue. Privacy and power, a delicate and easily contaminated relationship, will play a decisive role in the new balance of power.

All types of governments will be affected: democracies (monitored by citizens), impoverished autocracies and rich dictatorships will have to reshape their domestic and foreign policies, both on the net and outside of it. There will be no global legislation for the Internet as the Internet will be “Balkanized”. However, the authors do point to three key online government models that are already gaining ground:

  • The restricted information filter, as in the case of China.
  • A more timid form of censorship to manage internal tensions, as in Turkey and countries where different religious beliefs coexist.
  • Open control of the net, justified with legal arguments. This is what happens in North Korea, but also in Germany (for issues related to the Holocaust).

Virtual citizenship is already a real concept. I can’t connect to the Internet in my country but I request the right to express myself on the net of other nations: “virtual asylum”. War, revolution and terrorism will also be different in the digital age. The civil society of the future will be the most active and informed society in history. The risks from which citizens will need to be protected will include new forms of espionage and cyber attacks. Tension between security and privacy will be an enduring feature of the new balance of “digital” power.

And yet there are advantages to be gained from everything happening online. The delete button has disappeared and anonymity no longer exists: everything is recorded. Big data is a double-edged weapon that will be both beneficial and harmful to tomorrow’s society. Will we be able to tip the balance in our favor? This book is undoubtedly an excellent tool for gearing up to that goal.

Dory Gascueña for OpenMind


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