The Fluid Society

Control needed in the digital world

Digital networks. Digital networks are expanding around the world at an unprecedented rate. Every family, association, institute, government, organisation or company creates digital networks in order to communicate, work, exchange information and do business with each other worldwide. Networks of like-minded people who help each other, communicate with each other, share emotions and feelings, emerge from across national borders, religious boundaries and politics. There is also a downside: via social media, groups accuse and revile each other or spread misinformation, with the aim of unbalancing others or society.

Digital development phase. All this shows that the world is in a digital development phase, which is uninhibited, unguided. Where previously groups could not reach each other, because the distances were too great or the means of communication too limited, now literally every person can reach every other person on earth without any difficulty, provided they have an Internet connection and a smartphone. This now concerns more than 50% of humanity and the expectations are that within the next two decades, every adult will have a digital connection.

New phase of existence. How will this affect the world? Apart from its impact on individuals, groups, companies and countries, it is beginning to dawn on us that the world is entering a new phase of existence. If there is misery in a faraway country, the rest of the world knows about it in seconds. If there are needs or desires of certain groups, suppliers worldwide react immediately. If people need knowledge, regardless of location, about education, care, finance, trade, hundreds of Apps can provide the solution for free or for a small fee. The countries that are digitally well connected could absorb the economic consequences of corona much better than the countries that are not connected.

The world is becoming digitally integrated. It is a fact that groups of like-minded people all over the world are increasingly looking for each other, sharing each other’s knowledge, helping each other in order to reach a higher level of knowledge and information together. Also for bad things. Compared to classic crime, cybercrime is easy to organise internationally, now that there are numerous digital tools with which you can attack others digitally virtually free of charge, with an extremely low chance of being caught.

A digital learning process? It seems as if the world is in an enormous digital learning process. With technology developing at lightning speed, there are more and more opportunities for creativity, for innovation, for new forms of art or business. At the same time, social media seem to provide space for millions to vent their digital hearts. Where newspaper editors used to refuse to send in submissions, millions of people can now vent their (dis)pleasure uninhibited via social media. Internet has partly become a digital sewer of the dissatisfied people of the world. It is as yet unclear whether, from a social point of view, it is necessary to put a check on these digital excrescences, or whether it is a question of the evolution of social media, whereby new frameworks for what is and is not allowed on the internet will automatically arise.

Digital cooperation. New forms of digital cooperation are emerging in numerous domains worldwide. Medics find each other in areas such as diagnosis, scientists discuss new theories, musicians exchange compositions and mix numerous national musical expressions with new forms of music, environmental activists stimulate each other worldwide and learn from each other’s actions, families can easily continue to reach each other even if they are scattered around the world due to circumstances. 

Technology raging ahead. Nobody knows exactly where these developments will stop, but for the time being there seems to be no end to the new technological possibilities, nor to the creativity of individuals and organisations to use new technologies for new purposes. More and more virtual worlds, meta universes, are developing in which one can play games, wear virtual clothes, buy and sell digital art and in which, via augmented reality, real and virtual worlds are mixed for recreation, work or education. 

Man lives through his smartphone. Man himself is increasingly digitally active, with his senses moving more and more in a digital space. Modern man lives via his smartphone, even while dating, as was recently noted. Where once the brain served as a support for physical actions in order to shape existence or survive, it is now the other way round: mental work or adventures keep man occupied throughout the day and the body serves to make these mental efforts possible at the place of his preference. Man is rapidly changing into a being that transcends his body and derives his reason for existence from thinking and acting in a virtual space, with or without others. This virtual space can be an environment for working together with others on a project, on a social problem, study or report, on the development of new medicines, a film or a car. But the virtual space can also be visited purely for entertainment, playing films, listening to music, playing games or maintaining contacts.

Interest shifts to digital. As more people spend more time a day in a virtual environment, man’s interest shifts from the physical world to virtual worlds developed by man. Just as people increasingly transcend the physical in their activities, the physical world is increasingly becoming a supporting world for a virtual world, in which man finds his spiritual realisation. Is mankind on the way to a new phase of existence, in which the spiritual world dominates the physical world?

Many will not like it or even be repelled by it. After all, isn’t the physical world the real world? Doesn’t man’s existence revolve around his existence in a physical reality? Surely the virtual worlds should be supportive of the physical world? The philosophical question is whether this is really so. Man has been living in two worlds for his entire existence. The hard daily world of physical existence, with hunger, thirst, compassion and war, next to the world of the spirit, in which music, fantasy and spiritual vistas play the leading role. The digital developments make it more possible than in the past to escape the hard, physical world and to let yourself get carried away in the virtual worlds. And for increasing numbers of people, the virtual world is now the world that matters, both in terms of social contacts and the work environment. 

Virtual world becoming dominant? As large groups of people are active in the virtual world on a daily basis, it is increasingly becoming an essential part of human existence. The virtual world offers a partly structured and partly unstructured environment. Structured as far as it concerns organised working relations of organisations, which cooperate with each other in virtual meetings, study or work sessions. Structured insofar as it concerns participation in webinars, family or video sessions with friends. But unstructured, where groups spread unsolicited or misinformation through social media, with the aim of influencing or misleading other groups. Or where Big Tech spreads new products and services that lead to many unexpected new developments. 

Where this digital adventure will end no one knows. What is clear is that humanity is only at the beginning of the digital evolution. The call for control and regulation of the digital world increases, the more people are manipulated or digitally stolen. The European Commission is rightly taking steps towards regulation where people or organisations are threatened by excessive concentrations of digital power.

Nation states are losing grip. The digital adventure of mankind continues uninhibited, because no nation state can slow down these developments. The digital world is beginning to dominate the physical world, without us knowing where digital developments are taking us. It is quite possible that the digital world will lead humanity to a new, perhaps higher, form of existence. After all, in many areas, new digital forms of international cooperation are being forged that transcend national borders. 

Digital brain? The developing digital world can be compared, as is sometimes done in science fiction literature, to a developing brain. A digital world brain, which, like a human brain, can accommodate various centres of knowledge and expertise, which are interrelated. A utopia? If you look at the current conflicts in the world, which are mainly determined by conflicting world powers, yes. But if you look beyond the physical everyday world, you will see a digital world in development, growing like a layer over the everyday reality. 

A digital layer that is gaining power and influence and exerting an increasingly dominant economic influence on the classic industrial world. The question is not whether this digital world will come, but only what this digital world will look like and whether this digital world will help mankind progress. Humanity itself will have to do something about this, by understanding that if we allow the digital forces to take their autonomous course, as is happening today, a lot of misery for everyone can arise. The digital world demands control and management, as we also try to do, sometimes with poor results, in physical reality. If that happens, there is hope for a more just world with a more level playing field for all.  

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