Who are the world's leading thinkers on technology? Prospect has convened an expert panel to select the top ten minds whose ideas are helping to shape our futureby Tom Chatfield / December 15, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
Above: digital consumers are living for the first time in a culture where being part of a globally interconnected group is normal
When we refer to something digital—a film, a book, a song—we simply mean that it exists as a string of ones and zeroes within a machine. As ever more of our cultural and intellectual life migrates towards digital media, however, the staggering implications are becoming clear: that to live in a digital age is to live in an era of instantaneous and infinite reproduction, communication and creation.
Change has rarely been at once so rapid and so universal; and many ideas that will shape the 21st century are emerging from the digital realm. In the past 12 months, the total number of global internet users has swept past the 2bn mark. Thanks to the explosive growth of mobile phones, we live for the first time in a culture where being part of a globally interconnected group is normal for most of the world’s adults. The last major medium not to have gone digital—books—has begun to make the transition in earnest. Apple’s iPad has sold over 1m units a month since its launch in April, and helped define a new kind of computing device, the tablet. The population of the world’s largest virtual social network, Facebook, has passed the half billion mark—while human-machine interactions took another leap forward with the launch in November of Microsoft’s Kinect: an affordable device that allows users to interact with a games console through movement alone.
But if 2010 was important, 2011 promises still more. The US Supreme Court is currently hearing the first appeal involving interactive media, about whether selling violent videogames to minors should be criminalised. More controversies will arise as the growing power of interactive media provokes debate over not only violence, but also addiction and the “shallowing” of information-saturated minds.
Beyond this, 2011 is set to see a greater intensity of both debate and legislation around personal information, virtual identities and digital public spaces—those increasingly valuable and exploitable aspects of most lives that now exist online. From privacy to data ownership, and from intellectual property to the ethics of conduct and commerce, the intersection between technology and society poses some of the most vital questions that our intellectual culture must address if we wish to describe—let alone decide—what 21st-century living means.