BY: ROBERT BRENNAN HART, FOUNDER AND CEO OF THE CANADIAN CLOUD COUNCIL
TIMOTHY GRAYSON, FOUNDER OF INSTITUTE X
“In times of terror, when everyone is somewhat of a conspirator, everyone will be in a situation where he also has to play detective.”
– Walter Benjamin
Stability is fleeting.
That’s the nature of the world, though we do tend to luxuriate in the equilibriums of long periods of painful predictability. In the social sphere, ideas (good and bad) are destabilizing and need to be handled with care. The best way to handle ideas is to ensure they are washed and rinsed thoroughly by those with appropriate knowledge, insight, and wisdom to make them reliable and safe before exposing them to the multitudes.
Information technology, of course, makes a rather transparent mockery of this theory. The Internet and unfathomable depths of data circulating within its motherboards, have weaponized ideas for the authoritarian and anarchist alike. It is a wide open door to disequilibrium. Gleeful anticipation of the early days of the Internet was that open information and direct communication would be the ultimate socio-economic equalizer. A world unfiltered, unmediated, unvarnished, untrammeled by corporate or governmental overlord would shift power to the average person. And with knowledge being power, the truth would set us free. ell sadly, the preponderance of information technologies and digital media, never mind tsunamis of data masquerading as information, has not been especially liberating. Au contraire. It’s mostly fragmented, confused, overloaded, meaningless, and has enabled the latest scourge of easily digestible information. People once naively believed power would shift to the powerless consumers of information at the end of the communication chain, those oppressed by the ‘rigged’ media.
What we find is that perhaps there is, in fact, value in mediation. Where at one time the media cleansed information of the idiotic and debasing, and regulators provided a modest counter-balance to the excesses of large organizations, today their teeth are blunted, if not pulled out at the root. We are at the eternal mercy of a confederacy of digital con artists. Autocracy by a cabal of wealthy individuals, large corporations, and corrupt political structures is nothing even remotely new. But, the rampant anarchy of unmitigated information freedom that comes with the digital world has exponentially broadened their balance of power and control. The aggressively paranoid with delusions of conspiracy and dystopian worldviews now have absolutely nothing between them and the globally distributed tribes of the gullible and dyspeptic, looking for resonant ‘leaders.’
Donald Trump, if nothing else, is resonant.
And yet worse than crazy individuals destabilizing society by upsetting norms, is that it plays into the hands of the autocracy that caused so much fear in the first place. A destabilized, angry, confused populace is susceptible to the machinations of corporations that lie for marketing, politicians and governments that lie for spin, and sociopaths that… well, lie. In a world where anything is believable, nothing is believable. So people who were once to be freed by the TRUTH ( ) are now enslaved by it.
The technological promise of a crystalline lake of liberating information has been revealed to be a sewer of never-ending spin and drainage. In that swamp, the same or similar powers are achieving the same controls they always have; but, with far less friction and blood on the tracks. Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose. It has always been difficult to identify the righteous from the wicked (moreso now that fabrication of ‘brand’ is so easy and analytical ability so tenuous). However, even in Classical times, systems and processes have been used to protect tools from being put to the service of weaponry, especially by those for whom it is easiest: the powerful, the wealthy and the state.
And so, with Information technology being a weapon and data the ammunition, an exponential digital arms race has unfolded between citizens and the state, workers and corporations, hackers and the h@cked. How will advances in the digital armory such as mobile social communications, anonymous trusted networks, crypto-currencies, open data and deep learning analytics further disrupt power, governance and control across the public and private spheres? What reactions are likely?
What steps will government leaders take to adapt to the reality of an increasingly digitally empowered politic and how do we ensure sure that civilized democracy, and not unbridled autocracy, wins the future?