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On the Way to the Digital Society

by Falk Luke and Markus Beckedahl Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 at 7:16 AM
marc1seed@yahoo.com

The net must be understood for what it is: a marvelous creative space that forces us to question traditional norms and values, organizational forms and superficially accepted conditions to find new ways into the future.

ON THE WAY TO THE DIGITAL SOCIETY

Link Together!


By Falk Luke and Markus Beckedahl

[This article published in August 2012 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet, http://www.blaetter.de/archiv/jahlgaenge/2012.august/vernetzt-euch?print.]

THE STRUGGLE OVER A MODERN COPYRIGHT LAW…

BUNKER MENTALITY IN DOMESTIC POLITICS…

THE INTERNET AS A CREATIVE SPACE

Germany is far removed from an information society as long as political decision-makers, many economic actors and many citizens understand the net mainly as a potential threat.

In its blatant helplessness, the German Bundestag did not know what to do in 2010. An Enquete-commission was appointed with the beautiful name “Internet and Digital Society” that should focus on the great questions. What should result when 17 parliamentarians and 17 experts tackle a gigantic medley of themes? The goal should be to solve the burning daily debates. Many important and correct questions were raised. However it was quickly clear that neither the experts nor the Bundestag delegates really took off their day-to-day political spectacles or even slightly reduced the pressures of the parliamentary system. This led to pseudo-debates, ridiculous rules and diverse problems.

Nevertheless the net must be understood for what it is: a marvelous creative space that forces us to question traditional norms and values, organizational forms and superficially accepted conditions to find new ways into the future.

The lack of technical understanding in politics, science, economy and society is striking. Many users have no real ideas about the range of the technical changes or what fractures they produce or reveal. The consciousness that a change of norms occurs with the technical change that must be shaped is lacking. It will take at least a generation until this discourse becomes truly broad and inter-disciplinary.

However this could be too late in many places. Important points for our future are being set today. With data protection, we can abandon our private sphere and not get it back. The net has become too important to be left to unsuspecting or ignorant politicians.

How do we want to live together in the future?

Future developments will put in question our whole life, our works and some economic and social logic.

We have bad news for whoever still believes the Internet does not concern him, that he is not affected or can pass it by: that will not be true. Online and offline will be interlocked and no longer neatly separated. At the end, there will be a changed society. We also have disconcerting news for those who think all this will regulate itself and everything will be good at the end if the different actors do whatever they want. That will be impossible. The right answer to the question about net policy today is an essential prerequisite of the right answer to the question: how do we want to live together in the future?

Recognizing that the net is important is necessary but not sufficient. The digital society asks questions to which no satisfactory answers were found in the past. New questions will be raised to which we need answers to live well. The future will only be beautiful if we actively shape it.

We do not pretend to have a prescription for all problems. We also do not claim everything will be essentially changed in the digital society. Still the imminent and occurring upheavals offer a good chance for reflecting on what is really important to us, how important it is to us and how we wish to define ourselves as a society – socially, economically, legally and – finally – politically.

So-called net policy, the policy that decides over the points for our future in a digital society, is always based on the same triad of questions. Firstly, what is technically possible? Secondly, what effects will this have in the best case and in the worst case? And thirdly, what relation to the digital society is socially acceptable, desirable and possible for us?

PREVENTING A DIGITAL SPLIT OF SOCIETY

Knowledge about the use of digital technology is distributed unequally. A few know many things and many know little. One could say this is alright. There is actually no reason why people must learn twittering or programming who have not touche3d a computer in their life, apart from the ticket machine or the telephone that are also computers.

But when whole groups have no chance of being involved with these things, whether on account of infrastructural disadvantages like the absence of fast Internet connections, deficient education chances or restricted financial possibilities, then we4 accept a permanent split: those who have access and are ready for the future and those who have no chance. One may find this somehow acceptable. Why are older persons and pensioners troubled by this? But the changes are already taking place now and will increase in the coming years. Then even older people will urgently need this knowledge and ability, these skills and possibilities.

Digitalization can make our social structure more transparent if we demand this. Empowerment is possible, breaking social and economic limits and barriers with the help of the net. If a Hartz IV recipient technically has the possibility of grappling with the themes of Harvard and Yale, one must grant him that. [Hartz IV was the German welfare reform ruled in violation of the German Basic Law combining unemployment benefits and income support and drastically reducing the duration of benefits] When a child of a low income family doesn’t learn to use a computer, that is an unacceptably great burden for his future. If we don’t prevent this, we are simply acting a-socially. Here the net shows us the backside of our affluent society, the ambiguity or two-facedness of our political actors and our own indolence. We must develop action concepts and not only speak about this challenge.

WORK IN THE DIGITAL AGE

Can we imagine not needing to work any more – that computers, maybe also called robots, do everything for us? Is this a long way off? Yes, certainly. But it is only partly unrealistic. Digitalization, automation and interlinking will call into question some conventional structures, some vocational models and perhaps even some income streams. Only the one who sees this can shape this change. Whoever ignores it will be run over by it sooner or later.

Some branches like the music industry were already overrun by digitalization. The more digitalization advances, the more branches will be affected. Digitalization is the logical continuance and expansion of economic globalization, makes possible new and different business models and new and different production processes and product models. Digitalization gradually changes the structure of our world of work and economic world. How we work, where we work and for whom we work – all this is reorganized in the digital society. Some will notice this more and others less. But everyone will feel it. Electricity or stream, network cables, mobile telephones and the classical chains of logistics are the infrastructure on which our future will be built. Sooner or later everything else will be up for discussion. There are only two ways of understanding this: as something to oppose and prevent or as a great chance. A great chance lies in every upheaval as long as it is not pursued for its own sake or made into an end-in-itself.

If the economy should serve people, then the means for actively demanding and promoting this arose with the net. “What creates work is social,” Angela Merkel once said. But it isn’t social when the whole life is dominated by work and when more and more people must work two jobs to make ends meet. Financial management has long been digitalized – with all the advantages and disadvantages. Still one can imagine a world in which technology supports all of us in reducing the relative importance of earning a living in the lives of many people to a human measure so work does not define all life and the daily routine. Many would be happy if this becomes possible one day. Digitalization will force us to reflect about the meaning and necessity of very kind of human work.

THE GLOBAL NET AND THE LAW

Lawyers are a proud bunch. As judges, attorneys, ministry officials, data protection commissioners or public prose4cutors, they keep an eye on contracts and inconsistencies. They are a power in the state. But what happens when the state is formally digitalized away behind its back? What happens when learned knowledge that is often very specialized and the existing rules do not function any more?

The net scratches the foundations of jurisprudence. Jurisprudence is a reflective discipline. In other words, rules are found when something is already in the world or is at least imaginable.

The Internet has already been in the world and sets a second system of norms – a technical system – alongside the system of the jurist. These two systems are not compatible. For centuries, jurists have tried to define state sovereignty and build a world community of sovereign states including international law. The net says: I am everywhere and I don’t worry whether I transport contents from Timbuktu to Irkutsk or from Wanne-Eickel to Herne. What it transports, from whom and to who isn’t my worry. This raises problems for the jurists of this world. Their national and international rules cannot be adjusted very often.

Two reactions are possible. If nation-state rules are applied as much as possible to everything that occurs in the respective jurisdiction of the state to the control of the net and users, these controls must be consistently monitored, whether for youth protection, combating criminality, fraud or incitement of the masses. That is the comfortable variant propagated by some politicians. In the uncomfortable variant for politicians and jurists, the net is recognized as international and different than the traditional nation-state areas through its technical structures. Something can only be accomplished with national rules as long as the involved parties either do not use the net or are all resident in the country. In all other cases, we must reflect whether nation-state co-existence can still function and should function.

With all respect for their often hard work, jurists are the workmen of power. Laws, contracts and regulations are always the result of political will. Articulating, finding and crafting them is an overarching social and political task, not the task of jurisprudence. The experiences of the nation-state era certainly help us survive. There are tried and tested concepts; some function well and some poorly. But they cannot be transferred one to one to the digital world.

International groups like the multi-state alliance of the European Union reveal the problems. Still there is a certain common value structure within the European Union, a common understanding of state, citizens and economy to a certain point. In the international context, we are largely confronted with undemocratic states in which the interests articulated on the political plane are not inevitably the interests of the citizens of these states. Dealing with this is an original political challenge, not a legal challenge.

DEMOCRACY AND FREEDOM ON THE INTERNET

When we speak icy, we usually mean the states of the western world. We mean democracies – not the perfect” (Gerhard Schroeder on Russia), the “controlled” (Vladimir Putin on Russia) or the fragile but established structures stabilized in themselves in which minorities are protected and people live largely peaceably with each other, states that actually respect individual freedoms and in which the constitutional state is reliable.

Whether the digital society can be such a free and liberal society respecting and accepting individual persons is not a question of technology. It is a question of the organization of the framing conditions – that is, what is called politics. Digitalization and the net are basically neutral; they can be used for or against people. Organizing the net democratically and not leaving it to despots in state or economic organizations must be the goal.

With a net operating under democratic premises according to enlightened western values, we make an inestimable contribution for all people living in states that do not correspond to our standards. Democracy and individual freedom are still scarce commodities in this world despised by many regimes. Even our democracies are indirectly endangered when they threaten to strangulate in the defensive battle against evil itself.

FROM CHANGE THROUGH TRADE TO GENERAL LINKAGE

Change through trade, it was said in the past. Today the keyword is linkage! There is no alternative – at least no democratic alternative. Digital technology will penetrate all our lives more and more. It will be an indispensable part of daily life. When it is in the possession of a few and controlled by them, a powerful dystopia stands in the way of the idea of a better digital society: the misuse of digital power.

The digital dictatorship is perfected inhumanity. On the other hand, a free digital society has an immense potential for more humaneness. When every washing machine is digitally controllable, every change purse, every heart pacemaker and every electric car, the control should be in the hands of the users. The key to the digital society is enabling this in technology and law, society and world community and ensuring that these possibilities are not misused.

All this is not simple. We the citizens must demand it. We must exert pressure on our elected representatives and make clear in what world we want to live. We must demand their trust that there are people with a positive idea of the future. And we must insist that they act responsibly.

Progressive digitalization will also disappoint people like every social change that is radical or far-reaching. It will ruin existences and throw overboard life concepts. Change is never good for everyone. But if we as a whole society are conscious of this and worry about those who – for whatever reason – suffer in handicaps through these developments and fall on the loser side, then the chances are good that we will all profit together at the end from the digital society.

RELATED LINKS:

Konicz, Tomasz, “Cloud-sourcing and Cloud-working: The Brave New World of Work,” August 2012

http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2012/09/418561.shtml

http://www.onthecommons.org


FREE INTERNET BOOKS:

“Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work,” 2012 UNESCO report, 480 pp
http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/efareport/reports/2012-skills/
“Investing, not Betting,” April 2012, Brussels, 67 pp
http://www.finance-watch.org
“Enough is Enough,” 110 pp
http://www.steadystate.org
“Needs and Limits,” Frank Rotering
http://www3.telus.net/needsandlimits/pdf_files/needs_and_limits-3rd_edition.pdf
“Free as a New Business Model,” Chris Anderson
“Culture Change,” Alexis Zeigler, 126 pp
http://conev.org/ren14x.pdf
“The World Crisis and Beyond,” 2009, Rosa Luxemburg foundation, 182 pp
http://rosalux-europa.info/publications/books/the_world_crisis_and_beyond/
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