The dreams and visions that made IT and the internet a force for freedom have turned into a fear-fuelled nightmare of political control and corporate authoritarianism
In a matter of days, we’ll know who the next US president will be in an election that may be decided, once again, by the same electoral technology that awarded the post to the present incumbent.
You probably remember what you were doing when those two aircraft slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. In the relatively short time between then and now, the world has changed - and not for the better. At the forefront we have seen the introduction of technologies of control, permission-based architectures that supposedly made our lives more secure but which have in fact brought us closer, inch by inch, to the kind of world George Orwell imagined in his book 1984.
Biometrics, digital rights management, spyware, speed cameras and even concrete barriers are all contributing to a world where our activities come under ever more restrictions or monitoring, all in an attempt to protect the state from purple powder, terrorism or liability and our employers from the equal risk of liability and litigation.
With so much expensive technology at our disposal, you might think we could protect ourselves, have trains that ran on time and an education and health service that worked - but we can’t. We spend more money, build bigger fences and watch helplessly as overall workforce productivity continues to decline.
Technology was also supposed to make us richer and more innovative, and ultimately liberate us from the shackles of bureaucracy and inefficiency. In many ways it has, but not without cost.
The freedoms that IT and the internet promised over the last 20 years now appear to be turning more rapidly towards the evolution of an architecture of control, justified by paranoia and the threat of expensive litigation. The world is dominated not by visionaries and reformists but the frequently narrow imaginations of politicians and lawyers attempting to maintain their authority and the status quo of dominant market positions and interests in the face of the threat of digital anarchy.
To illustrate this uncertain relationship with the internet, take the following two quotes from leading UK companies, household brands both, from a piece of as yet unpublished research:
"Most of my content sits behind a strong permissions-based system. Control of content is everything."
"The internet has changed the rules and few people understand this. There is little awareness at a political level of the gates of hell opening up."
I’m a technologist, whose interests and projects overlap with civil society, crime and the public sector. My own big picture of what is happening here in Europe and elsewhere is that of bureaucracy, business and the state attempting to re-establish control of a world that slipped from their grasp in 2000, in a technology arms race that will ultimately lock all of us down behind a creeping and insidious barrier of digital permissions in the interests of security and economic well-being.
What we can be sure of is that the results of elections on both sides of the Atlantic will determine whether I’m to be a paranoid liberal or living a pay per view existence in a world where the trains might run on time.
Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies, and specialises in the areas of e-government and information security.
For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services, visit www.zentelligence.com