The future of networked individuals

We were asked in June by the comments editor at New Scientist magazine to “finish” the final chapter of Networked. And the new issue of magazine has just been issued with our conclusion under the thunderous title, “The battle of freedom and control in a networked world.”

In that book chapter and our New Scientist article, we outline two scenarios about the future of networked individualism in an ever-more-technology-saturated world.

In one scenario, we sketch a vision where technology mostly advances the the well being of users: “Virtual assistants operating in a semantic web – one in which machines can better assess the ocean of information – seamlessly mesh a user’s life logistics and interests, allowing people to be more productive and more effective at integrating their needs. The merger of data and the physical environment, especially in augmented reality apps, enriches people’s experiences …. In this benign world, the challenges of information overload are reduced as these smart agents perform filtering and relevance tests. This lets people interact with their social networks and growing information stores in productive and socially beneficial ways.”

The other scenario is more dystopian. Is is “a walled online world of tight corporate permissions and Big Brotherish surveillance by business and the state limits networked life. Personal agents turn out to be double agents, feeding back information on users that can be sold.”

Jon pressed us to write which version of the future we thought would most likely occur.

We split the difference by noting that elements of both future scenarios are likely occur and we concluded: “The world will fragment, with some parts moving towards the brighter side of networked individualism and other parts moving towards gated communities and more tightly controlled information flows.”

We noted that “networked individualism is tightly tied to technological changes” and the world of networked individuals will be shaped by 1) the architecture of the internet itself; 2) emerging legal strictures on information; and 3) evolving social norms.


One thought on “The future of networked individuals

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