The Internet, the government and information technology
Digital technology gives us the potential to be more informed and educated than any previous generation; if we take advantage of the tools at our disposal.
We can be more informed about government and we can engage government in an ongoing real time dialogue. And we are the first generation to have that capability. Government can be more informed about the needs and desires of its citizens and citizens can be more aware of government services.
Government can also be more easily informed about us. That isn't always a good thing. The same tools that give us the ability to convey and collect information, also give government the same ability. The domestic spying, secret wiretapping and other surveillance that has come to light over the last few years has demonstrated that governments are not above spying on their own citizens for debatable reasons.
Big data can be used to profile people on everything from religion to sexual preference and more ominously "political reliability", whatever that means. It all depends on what the agenda of the people doing the profiling is.
We humans value our privacy as well as our lives. We expect government to protect us, but to stay within rational guidelines. We like how big data enhances our ability to search on the Internet, but we would not want companies to use that data to manipulate us. Ensuring that no power, public or private, goes too far is an important part of what it means to be civilized.
However IT, like all material advances, is without a conscience. How it is used depends on the people using it. The pessimist will say that digital technology is a new means of slavery and the optimist will say that it is the key to building a better and more enlightened civilization. Actually, it's both. It all depends on what we demand and what we will tolerate. As always, the quality of our future depends less on the quality of our technology, than on the quality of our culture.