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Covid-19 is a perfect storm accelerating DT societal waves

The green QR code shown on the smartphone of a Chinese by the Alipay app, certifying permission to move around. Yellow would restrict movement, red would forbid any movement outside the person’s premises. The app automatically notify authorities in case of non compliance. Image credit: Raymond Zhong, NY Times

I received this articulated comment from Derrick de Kerckhove that I find thought provoking and I am pleased to share it here, along the sequel on Personal Digital Twins in the epidemic context.

Regarding both the viral threat of Covid-19 and the haphazard regulatory reactions of the world’s governments, the virus is being greeted by a ‘perfect storm’. The still recent globalization of the planet, the almost suffocating network of communications available and the need for a reboot of human culture in the face of climate change present ideal conditions to a form of disease entirely predicated on communication. Coronavirus is malady of communication, a meeting point – and collaboration – of biological and digital progression patterns. It is also a civilizational climax, marking a point of no return in a transition already begun.

We are at a critical (epochal) moment of the so-called digital transformation (DT). But when we talk about digital transformation we and all think it’s all about business, production, delivery and management. Ok there is also some modest considerations about social life and politics, but basically nothing close to what it really is, namely a radical and profound reset of the individual human and society. We would really like to think that the DT is serving us, but it’s becoming clear that the opposite is true: we are serving the DT. So the not so honourable  behavior of a few Italians on the run is not only a selfish life-saving strategy but a typical – and unconscious – resistance to the incoming digital tsunami that eliminates all forms of autonomy, beginning with privacy. But it’s no use. Long before we suffer the ignominious consequences of tracking and naming fleeing individuals and publicly punishing and shaming them, both inevitable if the tendency to escape continues, we have already abandoned  the fight and conceded our privacy in a myriad ways. For the government to threaten first and then act on the removal of privacy protection in the event of a national emergency is just a technicality. If we don’t have the covid-19 challenge under reliable control by midsummer (and perhaps earlier), starting with Italy, all Western governments including the Libertarian United States of America will put the entire population under surveillance in the way Chinese (and soon Indian) authorities have done. The police will most likely have to start tracking even offline all the smart bastards who have thrown away their phones thinking they can thus escape surveillance. I don’t want to go so far as to say that the coronavirus pandemic was part of some sort of spontaneous self-organizing DT strategy to accelerate its conquest of humanity, but what I’m saying is that it came in handy to ensure that it happens. There’s no escaping it. Moreover, the brazen official response of states to block people and force social distances is precisely the message of the DT: that is to dematerialize goods and services, yes, but at the same time remove autonomy, immobilize the population, and increase communication to unprecedented levels. And, by the same occasion the social distancing program is reorganizing our sensory lives reducing the need for touch, for travel, for transport and turning us all symbolically legless (Jean Baudrillard said it in 1976 in his L’échange symbolique et la mort when he suggested that staying at home at watching TV would make most people physically and mentally crippled. At the time, readers just laughed. Today the situation is much more advanced; as Lev Manovich observed last week, the balance between physical and virtual life in front of some screen, already threatened since long ago, is lost in favor of the virtual where we are bound to spend more and more time porting on screens our professional engagements. There, of course, we will be tracked and catalogued in databases. Once the last defense of our private being has been removed, no government will return it. Goodbye to GDPR and other fantasies of democracy! The image of the after coronavirus is predictable, a kafkaesque metamorphosis, not into a cockroach, but into myriads of data and algorithm producers in the global hive…

One comment

  1. Check this very interesting YouTube video on the pervasive use of data to contain the epidemics in China. Clearly privacy was not considered as a stumbling block. Although in Western Countries privacy is considered a citizen right we are hearing more and more than in exceptional situations the better good of Society shall prevail, and this epidemic is clearly a point in case.