Never have we been so connected but so disconnected at the same time. Digital technology connects us around the world. We can now be physically in one place even as we are mentally thousands of miles away–talking, working, or playing with others. The mobile phone is becoming ubiquitous in every aspect of life around the planet. And now the Global South and the Global North are well on the way to being connected everywhere, everyday, for better or worse.
These connections are generating collisions which were avoided when distance separated people and ideas. Wealth is meeting poverty online, and Western science and economics are meeting Eastern body-mind-spirit. Yet…. all is not one. People are whipsawed, sometimes very painfully, between the corporatized dominance of Western science and economics to, in more and more places, an embrace of holistic well-being and one-ness with the planet. Many parts of the world no longer are so willing to accede to the West’s dominance. So while we may find ourselves in the Cloud together, the buffers of understanding and empathy that enable human relations are not just worn thin. They are torn by growing waves of cultural and religious distrust.
Yet while digital may taketh away, it also gives: measurement, for example, is entering a golden age. The sensors of the internet of things and 5G are beginning to enable precise tracking of movement, temperature, and humidity. That will eventually help lead to enhanced food security and efficiencies in agriculture, transportation and the built environment, enhancing human wellbeing. Sensing as a tool to measure and monitor climate and the environment can enable us to better steward our planet at a time when that is desperately needed.
Digital accounting and tracking generally today primarily serves for-profit private enterprises, making a few people rich, while controlling and constraining the opportunities of far more. But if the cloud can be used to benefit humankind, both production and distribution could be improved in innumerable ways, with new precision. If such tools are managed for everyone’s benefit, it will be possible to dial the levers up or down for many important functions in society, especially at the subnational and neighborhood level.
Yet for now, divisions tear the human fabric, tilting the winnings to whichever tribe knows how best to leverage digital technology to win the power game. It is within our reach to change this, but we must collectively gather the will to do it.
We have a new dimension, and that is digital. Our early forays in the digital dimension have too often not enhanced or enriched our lives. But we can visualize hypothetical digital narratives, and in effect storyboard peoples’ lives, to examine in advance the impact of interventions. Grameen Foundation, for example, helps farmers track 822 factors that can increase crop yields in Asia and Africa by many multiples. Our intuition from the analog world will need to evolve to better serve us in the digital realm, just as it took time to learn to read and write. And many new digital utilities are needed so we cooperate together better.
What do we mean by “home on the cloud”? In our real, physical and geographically-located home, work and family life have in the last year or so been radically merging. This Covid-forced cohabitation might last longer than we imagined. The more-digital lives many of us now lead have come sooner than we expected. The consequences are many. Not only has remote work reduced the need for office space, but it has also brought down barriers to migrating for work. We can live by the beach in Bali and work each day with colleagues in Brussels or Brazil or Baltimore, even as we socialize at night or on weekends in Bangkok, Barcelona, or Bogota.
Digital humanism driven by love of people and planet is urgently needed as a counterweight to what will otherwise be an inevitable digital colonization driven by profit.
Surely we all want to prioritize collective flourishing over the fury that will result if the world’s future is defined by conflicts between digital masters and the digitally unempowered. But too many feel helpless, blame others, and find comfort in complaining. It’s past time for such inaction. It’s time to get going —with eyes wide open, not denying that the shift towards a more humane and sustainable society, however inevitable and badly needed, will be painful and fitful.
We are connected now. The human factor in social, economic and relationship ecosystems can no longer be ignored. We can see, measure and model these interactions. We have an incredible opportunity to share and learn so we can find ways to flourish together on our planet home: what that visionary Marshall McLuhan called Spaceship Earth.
This is a summary of a chapter in the forthcoming book, “Society X.0 in the Rise of a New Epoch – The Human Factor in Social, Economic and Relational Ecosystems” sponsored by the Social Trend Institute. Editors are Marta Bertolaso, professor of Philosophy of Science in the Faculty of Engineering, and Luca Capone Ph.D. candidate in the Philosophy of Science and Human Development, at the University Campus Bio-Medico of Rome, along with Carlos Rodríguez-Lluesma, professor in the Department of Managing People in Organizations at IESE Business School, University of Navarra.