I remember sitting in my car, waiting for my girls to come out from the riding school, and listening to a radio program about the internet. The year would have been around 1995. Less than 25 years ago. The point was that the internet would change our lives. In the entire world. And so it did.
There is so much good to be said about the internet. It has facilitated new contacts and made it possible for billions of people across the world to access the newest knowledge in any area. It has tied us all together in a way nobody thought possible when it all took off. The internet has facilitated new business models, new education systems and healthcare possibilities. Just to name some important areas.
Having said this, my generation has failed completely to understand the hind sides and to detect that the connectivity and the “no boundaries” would lead to a concentration of information and thereby power.
We must seek new ways of protecting people
We are well aware now that this was naive, but we imagined that deployment of knowledge and the ability to connect with people would result in an automatic distribution of power. The latest developments have taught us differently, so we must seek new ways of protecting people and their right to own their data. It’s important that concentration of power doesn’t allow manipulation of people into certain choices, and thereby undercut the democratic processes. We need to look for ways of distributing both power and finances back to “the people”.
This will not be an easy task, but in the free world, both the EU and now also the parts of the US, politicians, who are defenders of democracy and freedoms are trying to find new ways. I predict that the GDPR is only a first generation of regulating tools that will be put in place, so as to give us all the right position of maintaining ownership of our own data. And we can only encourage our politicians to be as creative and bold as the large tech companies are in finding ways to fulfill the ambitions on our behalf.
We each need to educate ourselves
In the meantime, we must all as individuals educate ourselves, and make sure our children are well educated from the beginning of their “connected life” in order to be able to navigate and protect themselves. This doesn’t mean that digital is off limits, but it’s an encouragement to use it in a conscious way.
But what does that mean? What kind of consciousness do we need? Well, let me tell you a couple of new learnings I’ve had as a grandmother, getting to understand that a 9 year old can be just as wise or even wiser than a 58 year old woman:
My granddaughter asked me one day: “Will I have to have Facebook in my house when I grow up?” I immediately answered no. But then I thought about it for a moment. Maybe the answer was actually yes. If we, for instance, allow all schools, institutions, and authorities to build their connections with citizens on a privately owned platform like Facebook, will it be possible to say no to using it without missing important information? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not after Facebook. But monopoly paired with an excessive concentration of data and no democratic control is perhaps not the best cocktail.
When I come to think of it, my answer to my granddaughter that day about whether she would need Facebook in the future should have been; “I don’t think so. But people in power need to get their act together so that you can grow up to live in a free world in the way I have known it.”
We need to act – now
When Christmas came around, I gave her a robot. She was as excited as I, and as we unboxed it she looked at the written instructions. It was all in Korean, so we didn’t really understand it. On top of that, my granddaughter detected a camera on the face of the robot, which I would never have noticed, and then she concluded: “Grandma, we don’t really know what this is and what it can transmit from your house. Let’s just get it out.”
I think she is already less naive than me. She has developed her “digital consciousness” far more than me, and she will hopefully grow up to be more alert and more intuitively aware than I can ever be. This does not, however, free today’s adult generations from acting responsibly. Otherwise, we will be letting her and her generation down because the disruption of the world order as we have known it for decades is happening as we speak.