The Illusion of Freedom in the Digital Age

Mark Leonard at Project Syndicate: “Over the last few weeks, media around the world have been saturated with stories about how technology is destroying politics. In autocracies like China, the fear is of ultra-empowered Big Brother states, like that in George Orwell’s 1984. In democracies like the United States, the concern is that tech companies will continue to exacerbate political and social polarization by facilitating the spread of disinformation and creating ideological “filter bubbles,” leading to something resembling Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World….

Big tech companies, worth more than some countries’ GDP, seek to maximize profits, not social welfare. Yet, at a time when attention is supplanting money as the most valuable commodity, the impact of their decisions is far-reaching. James Williams, a Google engineer turned academic, argues that the digital age has unleashed fierce competition for our attention, and few have benefited more than Trump, who is for the Internet what Ronald Reagan was for television….

In the digital age, the biggest danger is not that technology will put free and autocratic societies increasingly at odds with one another. It is that the worst fears of both Orwell and Huxley will become manifest in both types of system, creating a different kind of dystopia. With many of their deepest desires being met, citizens will have the illusion of freedom and empowerment. In reality, their lives, the information they consume, and the choices they make will be determined by algorithms and platforms controlled by unaccountable corporate or government elites….(More)”.