By Tracey Follows, partner at Supertrends Institute
Ever since western countries decided to lockdown their citizens, we have digital lives – most of us now spend more at time home making zoom calls; we shop by search – based on the recommendations of others; we put on our make up in the mirror of Instagram for all to watch – or we watch others doing that; and we learn new skills, not in a classroom full of warm bodies but facing the cold hard stares of an avatar teacher reciting her virtual lecture through a screen.
Radical change awaits. As more and more of our institutions, faced with digital transformation, gives way to corruption, incompetence, and total system failure, we will turn towards our peers and any others whom we feel are on the same level as us, and as such are part of our community, even if that is an online one. It means we can expect a challenge to the nation state – an institution that has until now conferred on our citizenship, our national currency, and our mode of governance.
Increasingly, people are willing to put their trust in companies more than countries. Technology platforms such as Google, Facebook and Amazon are what we now rely on to provide us with our public services. They have the customer data, the behavioural insight, and the powerful artificial intelligence to analyse it all. Moreover, citizens often feel these companies are more responsive to their needs than the hulking bureaucracy of local or national government. The emergence of smart cities that use digital data to monitor and analyse the comings and goings of the city and facilitate greater efficiencies, point the way to a possible future. A future where our digital service provider becomes the only provider, we need to access everything we want because everything we want is digital. If we don’t like their terms, we just unplug and sign up to the next. You can’t do that with a nation.
Well, you can’t right now. But countries like Estonia already offer e-Residency to non-Estonian citizens which will give e-Residents a fuller stake in the Estonian digital nation at some point in time. Once Bitcoin becomes more accepted as digital currency, what is then keeping anyone tethered to the land on which they happened to be born? Many will choose to be governed globally, from the Cloud.
This may sound fantastical, but the pandemic has shown it is possible and various global governance structures are pushing us towards greater and greater public-private partnership solutions to what they view as societal problems (and which others may just term ‘individual choice’). We can expect a backlash too. Some people will want to reclaim their sovereignty. Not of their land but of their lives; of their ideas and thoughts and actions. Many will baulk at the idea of a digital identity or a vaccine passport or the only way to travel being a self-driving car that logs where you went, with whom and at what time.
But such is the fate of what we have become, a ‘networked society’ in which we are all interconnected and from which there seems no escape for the self-sovereign individual?
Perhaps we are too connected, and will find it almost impossible to disconnect from others in a digital world?
Will our home spaces become our new workspaces, increasingly under surveillance by those for whom we work, and those who monitor and analyse our performance?
Really what it comes down to is one question: How can we protect ourselves; how can we protect our own ‘sense of self’ in this technologically overridden world?
How do we find the right balance between technocracy and our sovereign self?
This article has earlier appeared in Big Issue Magazine
Tracey Follows is the Founder CEO of Futuremade, and the author of The Future of You: Can your identity survive 21st-century technology?