Digital technology hands more power and convenience to the individual consumer. But technologies of connectivity can threaten stability and community. We need a new ethics of inconvenienceby William Davies / February 26, 2006 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2006 issue of Prospect Magazine
Britain’s digital infrastructure is in rather good shape. Broadband internet rollout was all but completed in 2005. It also became possible last year to transact with government online—from registering a vehicle to filing a tax return. The 2005 “e-readiness” survey produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Britain as the fifth best digitally equipped nation in the world, a table currently topped by Denmark, with Germany and France straggling in 13th and 18th places respectively. Britain’s first wave of digital modernisation is thus almost complete, a period in which the internet evolved from a niche interest to an everyday tool for over half the population, and mobile phones became ubiquitous and classless.
The second wave of development looks set to merge these two trends, as the rapid spread of wireless internet access pushes us towards an “always on everywhere” society. Bandwidth levels, which determine how much information we can send and receive, are now reaching the point where television programmes can be transmitted online. And after much anticipation, mobile phones are beginning to act as web browsers and televisions, not to mention cameras and camcorders.
Most of the argument about our progress into the digital future assumes that it is both inevitable and desirable. Its shape has already been mapped out by a network of consultancies, academics and think tanks. The only question left unanswered is how quickly we will get there. But while the benefits of the digital revolution are evident enough, we should surely be wary of embracing a worldview that sees technological bottlenecks only as restraints on freedom. London Underground is looking at ways of enabling mobile phones to work on the tube, to eradicate one of the city’s last blocks on digital connectivity. But what else will be lost in the process? Techn…