A Networked Society: Promises and Paradoxes

The conveniences of a complete digitally integrated society no doubt has its benefits. In “Life in a Networked Society”, the communications company Ericsson gives us a glimpse into what total integration of technology in a society looks like with the example of Estonia, a country in Northern Europe. Estonia utilizes the internet X-road to connect different government systems ,centralize services and store information for its citizens. Dr. Carrie Ginter moderates a documentary discussing the Estonian society and how it developed during the digital boom in the late 2000’s. Every part of Estonian citizens lives utilizes a unique id card or mobile identification that allows you to access everything from medical records, your children’s teachers, licenses for your business, or a bus ride across town. According to the documentary the technology fosters never before seen access and transparency of governing structures, while allowing people a tailored user experience for their lifestyle.

Conversely much of what has taken place in Estonia is exactly why many people choose to support endeavors that allow them to function autonomously online. The idea of a society foregoing anonymity scares many people especially because access to information in particular, forgoes power in many dictator government run countries. The Dark Web is an alternative to the internet we are accustomed to. It allows people to use the web without leaving an IP stamp that identifies them. This technology was invented by the US Navy, but is accessible to everyone now through a special encryption browser. Jamie Bartlett discusses on a Google Talks forum that the Dark Web will become more mainstream in the future because it allows for the most part, complete anonymity and a growing number of web options of venues that are on traditional internet like Facebook.  Bartlett also discovered through his research that although there is anonymity, users have managed to build trust with each other through screen names and reviews. Joseph Cox adds that the Dark Web is not what we previously thought it to be, full of illicit activities and freedom fighters, that it is more “morally colorful” than dark, and encompasses real people whose attitudes regulate what flourishes. Cox in his investigation not only saw drugs and guns sales, but book clubs and hackers taking down child pornography sites.

When I contemplated the idea of a networked society it was kind of scary. The idea of relinquishing control in many ways becoming a number doesn’t appeal to me. As I watched the documentary “Life in a Networked Society”, I couldn’t help but think this is not the full story after all it was facilitated by a communications company. I don’t believe networked societies are simply convenient without faults. The documentary explains in the beginning  that the conditions of Estonia coupled with government and private sector initiative fostered its innovation, while at the end explains that the intentions and mindset of the people contributing to innovations control the future. So what if the intentions of the government and corporations are contrary to public opinion or not fully disclosed. The idea of transparency and anonymity is such a paradox in networked societies and I’m confused as to how they can be simultaneously maintained and still flourish.

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