Is It Worth It?

By: Danscott
Lately, there has been much written about the forthcoming new independence enabled by the latest enhancements to Internet technology. There seems to be a certain breathless anticipation of a new (virtual) world where all information is free and immediately available. But, the idea of new technology creating new freedom is not new. Every significant technological breakthrough from the discovery of fire to integrated circuits is guaranteed to incite discussion and even expectation of new freedom. The light bulb banished the night; radio connected us all, village and continent; the automobile shrank the world, and the airplane practically miniaturized it. Mankind's constant drive towards understanding his environment has created an unending list of innovations, each in its own way changing the world.

And, each step forward brings new hope that it brings with it a new kind of freedom. Currently, we hope to be freed from the bonds of brick-and-mortar buildings, traffic congestion, and forced separation from our families (i.e. "a day at the office"). At this moment I am sitting in my "home office" drinking tea. By the end of the day I will have participated in two remote meetings (while strolling through my yard enjoying our spring flowers and thinking I really should mow it, but won't), helped a half-dozen or so customers and company representatives work through their particular problem of the day (while dropping my kids off at summer band, running my car through the car wash, and picking up a cappuccino), had lunch with my wife at our favorite restaurant, and written a concise, management-level description of our latest product offering. A few years ago I would have spent the entire day in a cubicle somewhere, but today the Internet and its related technologies allows me the freedom to choose where to work.

But, at what cost? Freedom is never free whether we're speaking of grand-scale freedoms like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness or small-scale freedoms like not having to go into the office today. By giving me the ability to connect to my coworkers and customers alike from wherever I happen to be, the Internet has afforded me greater independence but it has cost me my private time. Because there is the capability to always be connected wherever I go there is now the expectation that I am always available. The question is, is it worth giving up the distinction between when you are at work and when you aren't for greater latitude in how and where we do our work?

Apparently, the answer depends at least in part on how old you are. Younger people that have spent a greater percentage of their lives "hooked in" tend to deal with the lack of privacy afforded by the Internet with, if you will pardon my saying so, a certain wild abandon; whether due to an enhanced sense of openness nurtured by constant contact with the rest of the world or simply naive innocence I do not know. Older folk, more accustomed to dealing with the results of man's darker nature, tend to look at such openness with uneasiness and even suspicion.

The iGeneration is likely to have spent a significant fraction of their life on the Internet by the time they reach a point in the generational cycle where they are determining the political structure of the planet. The Internet will become such an integrated and accepted part of our culture that the distinction between what is "online" and what is "offline" will be mainly philosophical. Using the Internet to accomplish things once thought of as too sensitive in nature to be subjected to the potential scrutiny of the public will not only be accepted, it will be assumed.

It doesn't take too much imagination to see the Internet at some point in the not-too-distant future becoming the new ballot box. For the first time in the history of the world, true democracy on a large scale will be conceivable. But, what seems at first glance to be a desirable goal may in reality turn out to have the opposite of its intended outcome. Politics could easily become an exercise in mass marketing using emotional appeal and catchy sound bites to sway a majority of the population on subjects that are technically difficult, often to the point of obscurity. Politicians and their staffs will become adept at manipulating the message since they know the audience will often be uninformed on the topic at hand or not have the background to properly understand it. In addition, since they are only carrying out the "will of the people" the can always absolve themselves of any blame whenever things don't work out.

It's not that people electing their government through democratic voting all over the world would be bad; far from it. However, the ease of Internet-based voting could quickly lead to voting for everything. Every resolution, every question of any political import will be put to a vote. Politicians will learn to abstain from all responsibility for any question that could possibly reflect poorly on them, leaving it "up to the people". If you think that sounds like a good idea, try picturing a high school in which all administrative decisions are left up to the students.

Sometime in our lifetime technology will give us the capability to safely and securely perform any kind of transaction online, including voting. Inevitably, major elections will take place on the Internet or whatever replaces it. It's only a small step from there to a wholly democratic government run by continual Internet-based referendum. A brave new world indeed, but at what cost?
Technology
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Technology
 



Share this article :
Click to see more related articles