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The Societal Consequences of Digitalization

Working Paper by Moira A. Gunn, host of "Tech Nation," a U.S. interview program on National Public Radio (NPR)

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01.06.2000 · Research Group on the Global Future

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To address the societal consequences of digitalization, the first order of business is to give a new meaning to the definition of "society." Classically, the definition identifies and groups people who share geographic proximity within national or regional borders, and further differentiates them by economic status, ethnic background, age, etc. In this paper, we will observe new "digital" societies coalescing around access to and utilization of personal communications, computational resources and electronic consumer goods, all of which are born out of the digital revolution.

The most notable impact of the digital society is that it empowers the individual. This empowerment emphatically and undeniably changes his or her relationship to and dependence on existing social structures -- personally, locally, regionally, nationally and, for the first time ever, globally.

As for the rate at which these digital societies will emerge, that depends upon the actual rate of introduction of new and useful technologies throughout the world. There is constant debate as to the actual deployment dates of specific technologies into various societies. Adjustments to timelines must be made for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are manufacturing problems, undesirable price-point scenarios, insufficient communications infrastructures, political considerations, literacy levels, etc. Therefore, the timeline for future rates of change in any particular region or to any population may be open to question.

To that end, each reader is encouraged to utilize his or her particular first-hand knowledge of particular existing societies or regions, and to apply that knowledge to establish a likely introduction timeline. More important than the technical specifications of emerging products and services are the needs and priorities of specific groups of people. In the end, humans select the technologies they choose to incorporate in their lives.

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