lunes, 17 de marzo de 2014

25th anniversary of the web and the dangers of the future

Among the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the web, several reports and articles have been published last week. One of the most interesting contributions comes from the Pew Center, who has published a serie to celebrate the milestone. The first document contains some interesting figures about what the Internet means now in our daily life and its evolution in the last 25 years. The second report is an effort to forecast what will be the shape of our digital lifes in 2025.

Flipping through the first report, we take notice on how quick the web has become an integral element of our human life, at least in the developed countries. Although the figures are only about the USA, the rapid take up of the web have been similar in all the developed countries, and probably the rest of conclusions that could be obtained from the survey are valid as well for the rest of the western world. The web is so important for us that there are more people that find harder giving up the Internet that TV or the mobile phone. It is also important to underline that in spite of all the alarms, all the figures points in the direction that the Internet has helped us to strengthen the communication with our familiy and friends. There are many other facts around the internet leaving aside, some of them published in other articles.

The second report provides the views of gurus and some other members of the digital community about what would be the role of the Internet in our lifes by 2025. As it is expected, the views diverge, and it is easy to establish a division between an utopian team and a dystopian team. Beyond the four main trends identified the report and the fifteen theses of the future provided in it, everyone may obtain its own highlights of the views of these reputed voices. Below my two highlights from their opinions.

Firstly, it is crystal clear that we will need to learn how to live among a flood of information. As the experts said in the report, the amount of data available related to the two dimensions of human life (about ourselves and about the society we live in)  is going to be increased dramatically. As a matter of fact this has already happened. How we manage and exchange this information is going to determine our wealth and living standards. The more we are able to understand the differences between data, information and knowledge the more easier our life would be in the future. It is not difficult to foreseen that some people will be unable of this task, and therefore they  will have an even more superficial ability to understand the world and take advantage of its opportunities. So the inequalities in the future will be partially based on the lack of capabilities to handle with information.

Secondly, it is mentioned in the report many times how the networking effects introduced by the Internet accelerate every aspect of life. This is true also for the evil side of life. This amplification of evil is the engine behind the dystopian views of the future. As one of the experts underlines, "abuses and abusers scale far more than regular Internet users".  And there will not only be more abusers, also they will have more channels for their abuses.

It is not difficult to foreseen a dystopian future based on my two highlights above. Abusers, based on a wise use of data, knowledge and information, will easily take advantage of digitally illiterates, and amplify their feelings of loss and resentment. This is one of the concerns partially highlighted by one of the experts, who said that "only the relatively well-off (and well-educated) will know how to preserve their privacy in 2025". Unfortunately, it is not a problem only of personal information and privacy. Only the relatively well-off (and well-educated) will know how to conduct themselves among the overload of information. So the conclusion is obvious, increasing the digital skills of the population that will be at the base of a wise handling of information, and developing this social digital ability  is a must in order to avoid a future of instabilities and riots.

So, perhaps the bigger risk is not a "Big Brother" future, but a future of extreme chaos. We still have time to avoid it. And if we want to develop a bill of digital rights, we have to put the first of them the right to have an education on digital skills.

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