1.22 A New Era?
The question of whether surveillance and freedom of expression can possibly co-exist online is a big, existential one. It’s a question Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Cory Doctorow, and others have suggested we ask and answer, and maybe we answer it by thinking differently. While the machines are doing huge amounts of computational thinking, can we try and match that by activating our own collective reasoning.
The digital revolution is often viewed as the most significant thing on our human timeline since the Gutenberg press. Other notable observers of digital development such as Bill Thompson see it as being more profound than that, as important as the invention of writing itself.
What we can do with code may reinvent what we consider to be humanity. Code’s now a primal ingredient within our human existence, as fundamental to man and womankind and how it expresses itself as anything we’ve ever imagined.
The digital era might be a radically different chapter in our human story, as pivotal as the earliest civilizations of the Fertile Crescent, with similar shifts in capability that modern humanity can achieve as a consequence. This time, however, data can make us more conscious about what we do with the potential that technology offers to us as a superconnected planet. But to access that potential, maybe a line in the sand is needed.
As a result of recorded history over the centuries, and with access to the levels of information we enjoy today, we’ve an opportunity to view our chronology and place in the world in ways our ancestors never enjoyed as an option. Today, things are different for us, and acknowledging that difference makes the change more readily possible.
Our story on our timeline has been told as two ages to date, B.C.E. and C.E., the ‘Before Common Era’ and the ‘Common Era’. Why stop there? Maybe now there’s a third.
Interacting our way to a new Era
From B.C.E. to C.E. to D.E., the Digital Era. In these Emergent Code chronicles and with the arrival of a state of being that is ubiquitously digital, I think we’re looking at a marked shift in human existence, a whole new epoch.
This is the first time we’re co-existing with something that will become as dominant in our world as we are, a new age that will be characterized by code.
And if the Digital Era is to matter to us and sustain us as a new chapter of human history, it will be because it brings benefits in the form of accelerated social learning and future value that are a consequence of us being connected. It will enable us to make a step change, as digital humans, for the better.
Unfamiliar as this new world is, one thing seems clear. It’s not code alone that will make or break us, but how well we blend it, consciously, with what we decide is the ideal way we can be human.
Determining our next OS
As we take the first steps in this digital world, there is still much uncertainty, understandably, in the air about the footprints we want to make. It might be the future doesn’t even need us. It might be that the biggest challenge we face is fighting our own obsolescence, as we become sabotaged by our own learned helplessness acquired during the industrial age of hard labour.
We can renew, as digital humans, reconnecting to our origins, using code to elevate our intelligence. There are several possible futures, narratives and directions to explore using code. These chronicles are designed to draw attention to the idea that, for the first time, we have the chance to determine the next chapters of our timeline, using digital and human connectivity intentionally, and that chance starts here.
The web has introduced a new universal operating system into the world. It is creating collective intelligences and new domains. It is organizing us in new ways, building bridges between languages, fashioning transnational values sets, redrawing human boundaries and inventing types of interactivity.
The digital environment is changing our own OS as a result of our increasing involvement and dependence upon it and code is introducing challenging assumptions that will shift us out of conventional comfort zones.
The next chapter of humanity’s timeline isn’t something just a few people in Silicon Valley or politicians have the right to decide. It’s for everyone. We each have a chance and the tools to think about what we want now; we can make our choices and define our social cultures more purposefully than through random acts of digital Darwinism if we develop our skills as digital humans.
For millennia, there have been unknowns concerning the existential nature of humankind. The mysteries of life have enthralled and tested us. The asynchronicity of it and its random events have meant that the joy of self-discovery’s been a part of our heritage, part of the wonder of being alive.
But, as Joseph Goebbels once said ‘The propagandist must be the man with the greatest knowledge of souls’. Issues like how to reconcile the tensions that exist online between liberty and surveillance go to the core of that human soul. How do we ‘dance like no-one’s watching’ when everyone’s watching? In an age of digital surveillance and data-based intelligence, indeed, will we even know how to be free?
Stalin promoted the ‘engineering of souls’ is his speech at the home of Maxim Gorky back in 1932. Today, there is ‘fracketeering’ a more networked and dispersed kind of bad guy, a world in which networked terms and conditions apply, a world in which, your money or your life is not simply the utterance of highwaymen.
An alternative scenario, one that we’ve yet to fully develop, is focused on generating pleasure from sharing who we are, developing communities of belonging and trust relationships within a worldwide network. Using code and developing a greater intelligence through data, it’s going to be up to us whether we will get the Digital Era we deserve.