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(Twenty-minute last post of the year read) 


Technology is not neutral or apolitical.

So information may very well come to succeed capital as a central theoretical concept for political and social philosophy.

The retrieval systems of the future are not going to retrieve facts but points of view

However, the weakness of databases is that they let you retrieve facts, while the strength of our culture over the past several hundred years has been our ability to take on multiple points of view.

The question is, will new technologies speed the collapse of closed societies and favour the spread of open ones. The information revolution empowers individuals, favours open societies, and portends a worldwide triumph for democracy—may not hold up as times change.

The revolution in global communications will forces all nations to reconsider traditional ways of thinking about national sovereignty.

We are witnessing this happing already with the rise of popularism – Election of Donal Trump and Boris Johnston, but the tools that a society uses to create and maintain itself are as central to human life as a hive is to bee life. However, mere tools aren’t enough. The tools are simply a way of channelling existing motivation.

The influence in the information age is indeed proving to revolve around symbolic politics and media-savvy — the ‘soft power’ aspects of influence.

The information revolution may well enable hybrid systems to take the form that does not fit standard distinctions between democracy and totalitarianism.  In these systems, part of the populace may be empowered to act more democratically than ever, but other parts may be subjected to new techniques of surveillance and control.

Technology with algorithms are leading to new hybrid amalgams of democratic and authoritarian tendencies, often in the same country, like China that is building a vast new sensory apparatus for watching what is happening in their own societies and around the world.

The new revolution in communications makes possible both an intense degree of centralization of power if the society decides to use it in that way, and large decentralization because of the multiplicity, diversity, and cheapness of the modes of communication.

Of all the uses to which the new technologies are being put, this may become one of the most important for the future of the state and its relationship to society.

So are we beginning to see the end of democracy and the beginning of Cyberocracy?   

Crime and terrorism are impelling new installations for watching cityscapes, monitoring communications, and mapping potential hotspots, but sensor networks are also being deployed for early warning and rapid response regarding many other concerns — disease outbreaks, forest protection.

However, the existence of democracy does not assure that the new technology will strengthen democratic tendencies and be used as a force for good rather than evil. 

The new technology may be a double-edged sword even in a democracy.

To this end, far from favouring democracy or totalitarianism, Cyberocracy may facilitate more advanced forms of both. It seems as likely to foster further divergence as convergence, and divergence has been as much the historical rule as convergence.

Citizens’ concerns about top-down surveillance may be countered by bottom-up “sousveillance” (or inverse surveillance), particularly if individuals wear personal devices for detecting and recording what is occurring in their vicinity.

One way or the other Cyberocracy will be a product of the information revolution, and it may slowly but radically affect who rules, how and why. That is, information and its control will become a dominant source of power, as a natural next step in political evolution.

Surplus information or monopoly information that is concentrated, guarded, and exploited for privileged economic and political purposes could and WILL most likely lead to Governance by social media platforms owned by Microsoft/ Apple/ Google/ Facebook/ Twitter.

When we change the way we communicate, we change society. 

The structure may be more open, the process more fluid, and the conventions redefined; but a hierarchy must still exist.

The history of previous technologies demonstrates that early in the life of new technology, people are likely to emphasize the efficiency effects and underestimate or overlook potential social system effects.

The information revolution is fostering more open and closed systems; more decentralization and centralization; more inclusionary and exclusionary communities; more privacy and surveillance; more freedom and authority; more democracy and new forms of totalitarianism.

The major impact will probably be felt in terms of the organization and behaviour of the modern bureaucratic state.

The hierarchical structuring of bureaucracies into offices, departments, and lines of authority may confound the flow of information that may be needed to deal with complex issues in today’s increasingly interconnected world.

Bureaucracy depends on going through channels and keeping the information in bounds; in contrast, Cyberocracy may place a premium on gaining information from any source, public or private. Technocracy emphasizes ‘hard’ quantitative and econometric skills, like programming and budgeting methodologies; in contrast, a Cyberocracy may bring a new emphasis on ‘soft’ symbolic, cultural, and psychological dimensions of policymaking and public opinion.

Why will any of this happen? 

Because the actual practice of freedom that we see emerging from the networked environment allows people to reach across national or social boundaries, across space and political division. It allows people to solve problems together in new associations that are outside the boundaries of formal, legal-political association.

As Cyberocracy develops, will governments become flatter, less hierarchical, more decentralized, with different kinds of middle-level officials and offices? 

Some may, but many may not. Governments [particularly repressive regimes] may not have the organizational flexibility and options that corporations have.

So where are we? 

Future trends:

  1. The advanced societies are developing new sensory apparatuses that people have barely begun to understand and use;
  2. A network-based social sector is emerging, distinct from the traditional public and private sectors.  Consisting largely of NGOs and NPOs, its rise is leading to a re-balancing of state, market, and civil-society forces;
  3. New modes of multiorganizational collaboration are taking shape, and progress toward networked governance is occurring;
  4. This may lead to the emergence of the nexus-state as a successor to the nation-state.
  5. We now have communications tools that are flexible enough to match our social capabilities, and we are witnessing the rise of new ways of coordination activities that take advantage of that change.
  6. Civil society stands to gain the most from the rise of networks since policy problems have become so complex and intractable, crossing so many jurisdictions and involving so many actors, that governments should evolve beyond the traditional bureaucratic model of the state.

There is no doubt that the evolution of network forms of organization and related doctrines, strategies, and technologies will attract government policymakers, business leaders, and civil society actors to create myriad new mechanisms for communication, coordination, and collaboration spanning all levels of governance. 

However, states, not to mention societies as a whole, cannot endure without hierarchies. 

In the information-age government may well undergo ‘reinventing’ and be made flatter, more networked, decentralized, etc.—but it will still have a hierarchy at its core.” As the state relinquished the control of commercial activities to private companies, both the nation and the state became stronger.  Likewise, as the social sector expands and activities are transferred to it, the state should again emerge with a new kind of strength, even though it loses some scope in some areas.

A central understanding of the big picture that enhances the management of complexity is now needed more than ever. 

All human comments appreciated. All like clicks and abuse chucked in the bin.