The debate about the role technology plays in society is as old as humankind’s ability to use tools and techniques to change our world. The technologies we have in our hands today would be magic to our forefathers, from gene editing to spacecraft to the smartphone you’re likely using to read this article.
The impact of information technology on democracies is a comparatively younger concern, driven by the quicksilver pace of innovation and invention in the minds, labs, and garages of people around the globe, as well as the disruption of the institutions that held monopolies on the production and distribution of information.
For the billions of humans who are now connected to the broader world by mobile devices, our experience is increasingly mediated by screens animated by endless rivers of news, livestreams, and entertainment. Our feeds are personalized not only by our individual choices about media outlets but the algorithmic determinations of technology companies that may placed commercial interests before public goals. Our public squares are hosted on private platforms that weren't designed with civic good in mind.
Disintermediation, dystopia, and dismay are the words of the day, eroding the last of the romantic dreams of a better world, built anew in virtual spaces and places. “Digital dualism” is finally on life support, replaced by a dawning recognition that the distinction between offline and online has collapsed. Instead, we face pervasive surveillance enabled by the growth of cameras, sensors, connected devices, and data collection in our communities.