Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

Each time I hear a “trendwatcher” or a “futurist” explain what tomorrow will look like, I cringe a little. I am looking to the future with optimism, but I do not pretend to be able to predict the future – as a historian, I know how hard it is to know the past, let alone extract the correct lessons from it. It’s hard to predict something as simple as election results… So what makes trendwatchers think that they know what is going to happen as a consequence of the progress in information technology (and technology in general)? The PC did not make paper disappear; social networking tools do not only bring people together; etc.

In “Our Gutenberg Moment” Marina Gorbis writes:

At a very deep level, changes in our basic communications tools and technologies alter existing power dynamics; they re-define who has the power of voice, the power to shape our dominant narratives, and the power to influence how we think and act. While acknowledging that we will likely see dramatic social changes, Dewar warns that such changes will result from unintended consequences of technological advances, rather than deliberate technological design, as was the case in the past. “The Protestant Reformation and the shift from an earth-centered to a sun-centered universe were unintended consequences in the printing press era,” he wrote. These unintended consequences will likely re-shape the basic elements of our society and culture.

“Unintended consequences” are what we may expect. Like the impact of human activity on our climate, I suppose. Makes me wonder how we, as a global species, will react when the climatic changes thoroughly disrupt the weather?

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Bruce Schneier says: “The Internet of Things Will Turn Large-Scale Hacks into Real World Disasters“.

Security engineers are working on technologies that can mitigate much of this risk, but many solutions won’t be deployed without government involvement. This is not something that the market can solve. Like data privacy, the risks and solutions are too technical for most people and organizations to understand; companies are motivated to hide the insecurity of their own systems from their customers, their users, and the public; the interconnections can make it impossible to connect data breaches with resultant harms; and the interests of the companies often don’t match the interests of the people.

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No, Dave, strictly speaking you’re wrong: “Health care is socialist“. But of course you are just provoking your readers, and you’re right about that. One’s health is priceless, and it’s a good idea to “pool everyone’s resources“, as you describe it, to make sure that affordable or free treatment is available for all.

Question: it’s good to have such a pooled system for health care – but shouldn’t the pharmaceutical industry follow?

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Just a small quote from “Dark Arts. How a dark money network is taking power on both sides of the Atlantic“:

In April 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt sent the US Congress the following warning. “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism.” It is a warning we would do well to remember.

You’ll have to read the rest of George Monbiot’s article to see exactly why this lesson is so important – a summary would not do it justice.

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Social media are everywhere these days, to the point where they suddenly seem to be more important than any other communication medium. Families and friends use them to stay in touch while on holiday, companies use them for informal meetings and discussions, news media distribute their headlines with them, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean (and probably elsewhere in the world too) use them to try and set the stage for policy changes.

Privacy questions remain, however. Especially now that the concept of real and virtual walls around nations is rearing its (ugly) head again. So here’s an interesting suggestion from Maciej Cegłowski, in a post titled “Social Media Needs A Travel Mode“:

All I care about when I’m on vacation is posting devastating beach photos that will make my friends jealous. So why do I need to carry the complete list of people I went to high school with, or an archive of messages I exchanged with a chance acquaintance ten years ago?


We need a ‘trip mode’ for social media sites that reduces our contact list and history to a minimal subset of what the site normally offers. Not only would such a feature protect people forced to give their passwords at the border, but it would mitigate the many additional threats to privacy they face when they use their social media accounts away from home.

Reinforced real borders the world all over form a strong contrast with an Internet that has (almost) no frontiers. So I do wonder if we’ll ever see such a thing – perhaps Diaspora could propose a solution?

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It would be foolish to deny the fact that the current, global economy is different from one or two centuries ago. But it makes me wonder: does that mean that we need official ambassadors to talk to global companies? The Danish government seems to think we do:

Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen. Photo: Nikolai Linares/Scanpix

Anders Samuelsen (Foto: Nikolai Linares / Scanpix 2017)
Click the image to go to the source: The Local (www.thelocal.dk)

Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen revealed the plans in an interview with Politiken newspaper on Friday, saying that companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft “affect Denmark just as much as entire countries”.

“These companies have become a type of new nations and we need to confront that,” Samuelsen said.

Do we really want companies to rule the world? Do we want profit to be the sole motivator of how the world is run? I don’t.

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Note: I wrote this post at the end of September 2016, and could/should have published it then. I did not, for then as well as now, I don’t want my fears for the future (mine and that of my children) to monopolise this blog. But I haven’t read a better explanation for why things happened as they did – even though the article I refer to was written before the presidential election in the US! No matter how you look at it, it is ironic that the age of computing sees such an outbreak of irrationality – or could that at the same time be a reaction of a large segment of the population to an overdose of what is perceived as ‘computer logic’?

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Here’s an unpleasant, nay scary, analysis of what you might call “political marketing tactics”: “Brexit and Trump: When Fear Triumphs Over Evidence” (on the Scientific American website).

We also know that emotions, particularly fear, can have a profound impact on decision making. When we are afraid, or asked to focus on arguments based on fear, we generally shift into something called peripheral processing. […] When pundits argue that people don’t need experts, they are actively trying to push you from using central processing to a peripheral approach. They are asking you to turn off your logic and turn on your emotion, because they know that it is difficult to use logic once fear takes over.

I see similar phenomena outside the UK or the USA: why would a real democracy need soldiers in the streets, like in Belgium? Why do French politicians dare to think about changing their constitution for the sake of banning a piece of clothing from the public space?

But I do understand: when you grow up and live your life in fear of some formidable god/devil combination, fear is the thing you know best when it comes to making decisions. Too bad that in the end facts and their logic will triumph – always.

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