After exploring the external and internal threats democracy is undergoing, I intend to dive into another fundamental shift of our times: the dramatic surge of the digital revolution. Being almost in my 30's, I am old enough to remember life before the internet was big, while at the same time young enough to be considered a digital native. I both experienced doing school research with books as well as being an early adopter of social media.
Despite this 360° experience, it's easy to forget how much our lives changed when technology started permeating our existence. Not only have habits changed, but the very pillars of our life - memories, knowledge, relationships - have been shaped by the tools and devices we have access to. Now, a new world - literally- is coming running towards us: the metaverse, with its huge opportunities and risks.
Let's understand what this means for our future in today's second of our three-part historical analysis of the Equitist Manifesto! You can find yesterday's piece here.
A DIGITAL LIFE
The internet was made public in 1991. At the turn of the millennium, 361 million people had access to it. Two decades later, almost 5 billion people surf the web. The speed and distance the surge of the digital world has shaped human life is unprecedented and matches - if not exceeds - the discovery of fire, writing, steam engine, flying, antibiotics, and many other events in human history.
The utilization of devices and applications connected to the internet permeates life in developed countries and is making considerable leaps forward in developing ones. The average adult in a developed economy like the United States consumes 25% of their awake time on a mobile device. Combining this with time spent in front of laptops in certain occupations, the "connected time" can be by far the majority of the one available to a human. In addition, more than 30% of business transactions are already performed online, and there is an increasing growth of web-enabled robots and web-enabling AI in all business sectors. Human life and activities are increasingly web-based and web-driven.
While bringing along interesting behavioral changes, the increased utilization of digital means in the real world is not where the real game-changer lies: the competition between physical and digital lives is.
It all started with the theorization of the metaverse: a virtual reality experience where through a headset, one enters a virtual world connecting all sorts of digital environments, from gaming platforms to social networking and business. Fantasized in sci-fi productions and brought to life for the first time in 2003 by the game Second Life, the metaverse is an ever-expanding concept slowly creeping into new branches of human existence. It is set to become a parallel world to the 'real one,' where users will work, build relationships, and spend their leisure time. Real-life applications are already blossoming, and they prove helpful: medical surgeons used the metaverse to train for complex procedures. But that's not all: they will be able to shape their lives as they wish, never age, project the identity they want, hide their flaws, explore any experience, test ideas, fail, and restart; they will be able to build a digital life. And while for some, this might sound like a dystopian nightmare, for many others - because of their intellectual curiosity or the need to evade the inequities of the physical world - this may sound like a vivid, graspable dream.
And this is what poses a unique bifurcation (or fork, in cyber-language) in human history: will this technology ruin humanity or save many from a pitiful life? What will happen if a large number of humans decide to give up their active participation in physical life for a digital one? This could well happen if people build a better version of their life in the digital world and get out of it just to sleep or feed themselves. Or even to a more extreme scenario, people could be living on life support while being connected to a virtual reality device, or the physical world might increasingly become the land of the powerful and the rich, enjoying it wildly and limitlessly, while all the others will be 'plugged in' to escape misery. Imagination can run wild on these topics, but reality too: exactly as the Wright brothers could not imagine that less than 60 years after their first flight Yuri Gagarin would reach the stars, the metaverse might change lives forever in just a few decades.
The rapid surge of digital lives might take stakeholders such as politicians and decision-makers by surprise. Precisely as governments grossly oversaw the impact of social media on democracy, institutions and society as a whole are blindly running toward a future that is neither remote nor unlikely to materialize in some radical forms. While many other technology-related risks (traditional ones, such as the nuclear holocaust or future ones like artificial intelligence taking over humankind) are possible but indeed not an intuitive choice for society, the triumph of the metaverse over 'ordinary life' is way more attractive for large shares of humanity.
A new ideology must take hold of this trend and lead the way in comprehending how technology can and must be leveraged to increase well-being and ensure the progression towards a truly equitable life for all. As traditional thinking is falling short of such a task, this pamphlet will take on the responsibility: whenever a new technology arises to potentially bring about prosperity to those that are now left behind, spread knowledge and awareness, and overcome distances and barriers, Equitistis will be at the forefront, ensuring that the fruits are shared and the risks tamed.
Thanks for reading this one - it's one of the fascinating topics we will have to explore, and I cannot wait to get to the "future equity" chapter of the Manifesto, where we will dissect it fully. If you are interested in the topic, check out the video Mark Zuckerberg used to launch its bid for the industry, as well as its parody by the tourism authority in Iceland :)
Tomorrow, we will dive into the third and last defining tension of our time: the cancellation of barriers, amplifying inequities and providing unprecedented opportunities.
PS English is not my first language. I want to reassure you that before assembling the Equitist Manifesto, some editors will review all this material and ensure it's correct and flows well ;)
Andrea Venzon (he/him)
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👉 The content of this email is part of the work to create the Equitist Manifesto. Here you can find the structure we want to follow, and previous issues are available here!