Today, challenges are too often framed in a way where the choice seems to be between blind confidences in the future, on the one hand, or an enlightened approach based on identifying risks on the other! The current implicit trend of criticising the present, as if the present was what is broken and needs to be fixed, and the future where solutions lie, forces too much attention to be paid on risks only. This prevents us from making sense collectively of what happens to us, with the digital transition, in a forward-looking AND meaningful way.., i.e. with enlightened confidence.
Hannah Arendt, a philosopher and political thinker of the 20th century, offers a ground to frame the challenges in new terms. She suggests giving more weight to the fact that humans are born beings, and not only mortal ones. Remembering about the infinite improbability of our birth, rather than being focussed on the certainty of our death: she highlights that the durability of the world is due to the recurrence of new beginnings, and that freedom is experienced in beginnings much more than in sovereignty!
So, let's experience the present as the beginning of something we are giving meaning and shape to. No absolute fear, no blind confidence: engaging with the present and shaping it is the task of the day. The Onlife Initiative aims at contributing to this task!
We used to think of the online world as an add-on to the off-line world. The "gates" to move from offline to online were identifiable. The explosion of the "gates" between off-line and online, through ubiquitous access to the internet for persons and objects and the increasing and distributed processing power, suggests that we adopt the vision of a hyperconnected reality where the distinction between off-line and online has totally faded away. Hence, the challenge is to analyse this hyperconnected, or onlife(?), world as a "new nature" around us.
Let's call literacy the set of skills, understood in a wide sense, which enables the experience of plurality and freedom. In a pre-digital context, literacy is about reading and writing, but it goes much beyond the technical ability and reaches out to the ability to understand, to contextualize and to be persuasive. For example, each of us learn very young and, most often, very painfully, the subtleties of written and oral communication. We all experienced the differences between what we want to say to our mother or to our best friend, or between what we want to say in confidence, and what we want to say loud and clear. When things go wrong, we learn and we adapt, and little by little, we acquire that extended literacy. Literacy is made of a mix of technical, social and ethical skills and considerations. It is also highly evolutive. As put nicely by Siva Vaidhyanathan, in the hyperconnected era, “we are all babies”! Indeed, who is aware of what is accessible to whom when engaging on social networks, browsing on the internet, buying online, walking around with a mobile phone turned on, etc...
Acquiring a digital literacy is a collective and societal endeavour that requires an uptake and “naturalisation” of knowledge and codes, about the different modes of communication in a hyperconnected era, and their consequences for plurality and fredom. It is about adapting common sense, fairness, respect, responsibility, freedom, privacy into the new worldly conditions. Shaping this new version of literacy, which can be called a digital literacy, or a digiteracy, or a digitality, is an emergent and ongoing process and all stakeholders are actively revisiting and reshaping them: there is no monopoly for taking part in such a game.
Trends and Weak Signals
The key transformative drivers are all the developments leading to the blurring between the off-line and online worlds, as we used to know these two worlds and treat them as if they were distinct, i.e. IoT, convergence between fixed and mobile, augmented reality, convergence of linear and non-linear services, cloud computing, "smart" devices, ... .
The results of all brainstormings undergone at the "Ground-breaking Policies for Future Societies" workshop, including this very vision, can be found here.
Policy making is and was about fostering and regulating the online world, as if it was an extension of the offline world. This additive and extensive vision of the coexistence of the online world and the offline world is outdated or will soon be. The challenge -and the opportunity (see below)- is to accompany the emergence of a new literacy in a hyperconnected reality.
Policy making has a contribution to make in this endeavour, but it would be wrong to believe that policy can deliver such literacy, as it is wrong to believe that policy could prevent risk in an absolute manner. Policy-making, by being aware of the current emergence of new forms of literacy, has to be responsive and add value to the workings of societal intelligence and the ongoing shaping of an emergent digital literacy.
Transitions are difficult to manage, for at least two reasons:
1. Re-engineering concepts destabilises socio-technical eco-systems, as these have been built according to them. So, stakeholders may find it too risky to engage in such a rethinking and may prefer perpetuating the older frameworks, where their role is clear and which they know best.
2. There is no ready-made alternative, and the emerging new concept and principles need to grow and be solid enough before being credible candidate for substitution. Calf teeth go away when the new ones are ready...
Acquiring a digital literacy is a huge opportunity to reclaim confidence in the future. It is this collective and societal endeavour that forges knowledge and codes, about the different modes of communication in a hyperconnected era. It is about adapting common sense, fairness, respect, responsibility, freedom, privacy into the new worldly conditions. Shaping this new version of literacy, which can be called a digital literacy, or a digiteracy, or a digitality, is an exciting process. It is about developing tools, not to control the environement, but to be able to navigate within it, i.e. to orient ourselves, individually and collectively. Navigation requires control of the boat, not of the ocean. It also and always requires orientation. And orientation requires knowledge, abilities and tools.
As Newton, Maxwell, Schrödinger, Einstein formulated laws that were instrumental to understand, and consequently, engage with the "nature" as it was before, i.e. the non-fabricated environment, we are currently expecting those who will formulate the laws that will be instrumental in this new "hyperconnected nature". In the meantime, we'll be in a sort of equivalent position of our ancestors living before Galileo and Newton;-)....This provocative statement aims at suggesting that we should not approach the unknown with fear, but more with the curiosity and an appetite for the forthcoming understanding that will surely come before the reality chooses again to escape;-) The unknown is also the condition for being able to do good things and have pleasant surprises. The unknown is also the space from which new meanings, new visions, and new cultures emerge (In fact the "new" is never or rarely really new, it is itself a reformulation or a reactualisation of eternal notions. The word "eternal" is too strong as it suggests that these notions are absolute and stable, which they are not, but what is meant is that there is an iterative process between what comes from the past and the contextualisation to adapt to the new worldly conditions...)