Adventures In Self Discovery To Transform Your Life

Chapter 14
The Digital Revolution

We inhabit three universes:

• our everyday material universe,
• our inner universe of imagination,
• our universe of language and thought. 

And now we are embedded in a fourth universe. This is the universe of digital data that runs in parallel with the other three.

Data is all around us, unnoticed, invisible. Today, data gets collected or produced, converted to digits, then recorded. 0 or 1. It is stored in vast quantities, everywhere and about everything. Data is instant. Data demands recognition and response. Data disrupts. Data becomes permanent. There is little limit to where or how fast data can originate, move and get stored. There are few ways to limit access to data. Our digital universe has taken over, running in the background, running our lives.

This universe of data parallels our universe of people and places and things. It notes and records our actions moment to moment, 24/7. Anyone with the right tools can access, analyze and act on the data that is you. What you said, wrote, photographed and did on November 3, 2011 can be recreated far into the future.

Data seeks the shortest path. So data produces disruption. Old patterns and structures get displaced, disordered and destroyed. Technology facilitates data. The chain from desire to delivery gets more direct. Soon even Google and Amazon will be in the way. Yet, when it comes down to it, your data is a blip of electrons or not, 1 or 0, on or off. No sunset splendor. No burst of joy. Just 1 or 0. That's all you are to data.

You Are Data
Everything around you is responding to your actions and desires. Your watch, smartphone, computer, television, car and surveillance cameras are all collecting information. It is analyzed and acted on by data collectors. You have little awareness or control of this. Soon your thermostat, refrigerator, crockpot, baby monitor, door lock and heating system will start reporting in.

Everyone’s data comes together in the Cloud, thousands of computers linked together. They sit in hundreds of buildings all over the world, often along a river they use for cooling. Anything you put up on the Web is spread out over these computers and much of it is available to anyone. The Cloud holds more information about you than you can imagine. Many people can access that info then direct your attention and actions. You can do little about this nor would you. It is your life, backed up. Without it, you could not live as you do.

Screens are everywhere collecting data. Soon your glasses will record everything you see, hear and touch. Your watch, phone, computer, thermostat, refrigerator will be buddies, part of your gang. Your home network of sensors will connect with your car and community. They will share data about your actions, needs and preferences. 

You may be living in a home that acts like a butler, guard, companion and overseer. You will have a digital ‘self’ forever stashed in the Cloud.

Many people now live in a protective bubble with music and news in their ears all the time. They are separated from everyone. Their smartphone tells them what everything around is. Then, what's coming up that they should notice. They get alerted and directed by their cyberfriends to the next good experience. They are hyperconnected in an endless present. They may also find themselves concerned about missing something or being left out.

All this information gets customized to become the data of 'you'. Every thing will be sensorized, digitized and connected. Every device in your home will be connected to the Web. Your machines will know you better than you know yourself and will remember longer. Bits and pieces of data will get requested and assembled by algorithms to serve you or serve you up. Your watch keeps track of your health. It will remind you to exercise and will call the doctor as needed. Your house will tell you when your dog gets loose. Your car will call you when it needs gas or a battery charge or is just lonely.

Screen Beings
The Web is not a place. The Web is data, a unified stream of information and intelligence coming from everywhere. It is a presence in your life. Everyone connects to everyone.

There are billions of us connected human beings. We’re full on into screen life. We get linked by the Internet and connected to our devices, processes and data. You can find out anything you want, anytime, anywhere. Screens dominate everyone’s attention. People will watch screens much of their time at home and work.  We update often to prove our continuing existence. How much time do you spend managing your Facebook pages? Some people live as micro-celebrities in a parallel screen world. Will we be spending our lives looking at screens because we have nothing better to do? Life could become trivialized by empty desires and entertainment.

We are becoming people of the screen. Your smartphone knows your habits better than you do. It knows where and when you sleep, when you wake up, who you meet, where you’ve been, what you do. Your brain works differently when you are screening. You get scattered, jumping from thing to thing. Screens encourage action, assembling our own myths and magic. You can sit and watch your lifestream, your entire cyber-life on call right in front of you. It will be difficult to tell who or what is real anymore. Anyone can create complete and bogus cyberlives.

The challenge is to expand our knowledge and understanding. We need to become aware of and control the sources that now make us think we know everything we need to know. They filter, focus and control our attention to benefit Google, Facebook and others. We can take back our attention. We can define and choose who we are what we want to know and who we want to know us.

Data Is Everything
Making changes in life requires control, yours or someone else's. People need you to think and do things that benefit them. So they find ways to influence you. You do the same. Language has been the main form used for millennia. Until recently, print advertising, radio and television got the job done. A couple of decades ago they were joined by the Internet. Major change. The Internet is based on data, vast fields of data.

You are a wee part of that data. Your interests, desires and actions are data to that is collected and analyzed. They get combined with other data and fed back to shape your thoughts and behavior. You are a bubble of data that can be analyzed and directed to someone else's purpose. Within data you are not a human being. You are just the sum of your data. Your life gets customized around your data. Novelty gets used to catch your attention and arouse desire. You saw and clicked the 'buy' button. Some data moved around. You got the thing you wanted. Your data expanded.

You are part of a circle of data that parallels your circle of desire. What you do online becomes digitally available data, easy to move around, share and copy. Where you go, what you do, who you see or talk to are just a bit of your data. Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon use and sell your data. Anyone who wants your attention and money can buy it. The camera in your phone, computer or video game takes your photo. Software analyzes your mood, feeds you information and rewards. If there is a pattern to your actions it will get recognized. Your data will be digitized and acted on before you are aware and without your permission.

The jacket you looked at online last week can get delivered to your door in one hour, just click. Google and Amazon are like dear friends. They know my browsing and buying history. They will foresee my every desire and serve it up before I am even aware I need it. I don't need to think anymore, just react to what appears on my screen and press the BUY button. You and I have desires and money, both are data. Data allows products to find the shortest cheapest path between our desire and delivery. You used to go to a store to find what you want and to buy. Now you go online to the same store or through Google to another store. You go to Amazon or to the manufacturer for a direct buy and delivery.

Platforms are service companies that create a marketplace. They connect people with something to sell to people who want to buy that something. Platforms make money by connecting information, things and people. Uber with no vehicles and Airbnb with no property are examples. Facebook allows you to present yourself to the world in exchange for watching ads. They sell you to people who want your attention and your money. Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon are organizations that ride the Internet. They are accessed and used by anyone, anywhere. In essence and in practice they are supranational, self regulating and independent of government control. They are a new business form that can be called 'surveillance capitalism'. They spy on their customers and sell them to advertisers.

Privacy is pretty much gone as everyone’s past can and will get recalled on demand. This is gold for businesses and governments and they will mine your life to collect it. New social structures will tie us together in ways not possible today. Connected to everyone else, we will do miracles not conceivable today. We will also be capable of great evil.

Let Information Set You Free
When you add a human head and heart, data becomes information. Information in language form takes on meaning. Once meaning gets attached, you can add rules like logic and end up with ‘rational’ truth. Now you think you know. Too bad. Information is not knowledge.

Information is a form of control. In any culture where most people are ignorant, you are part of the elite if you can count and read a language. All organizations use the control of information to maintain their structure and operations. It also protects them from outsiders. Kings and religions battled to control people with claims of special knowledge and powers. The arrival of printed books began to create people power. At least it exposed superstitions and false claims.

A major change started thirty years ago when we liberated information. People used to read books before an open hearth. That recently turned into a radio, then a television. Starting around 2010 almost everyone had a smartphone. They could find and intrude on anyone, anywhere and at any time. End of personal privacy. We have swift access to the world’s knowledge. We can see the activities and opinions of our friends, their employers and Lady Gaga. Information is almost free so everyone can access almost all the world’s knowledge. We can learn anything about anything. Anyone can learn anything about us.

Soon anyone will be able to write anything about anything and spread their ideas across the world. Social media and viral sharing will bring our attention to issues of concern. Anyone will be able to design and build anything and offer it to the world. 'Open source' projects will extend into every facet of life. We're moving from a few big companies to lots of small enterprises.

Soon all books, videos, music and art will be available whenever desired on your screen. Surplus time and leisure will enable us to develop new ideas, art and things. Experiences will be the major way humans spend their time and their major expense. Short videos of our experiences and remixes will be how we shape our lives and express ourselves

Information also enables invention and the shared creativity that reshapes industries and liberates individuals. Four men with some computers and expensive machinery can farm thousands of acres. Only two percent of our labor force are working in agriculture. That two percent feeds us all.

We are liberating ourselves from the farm, the factory and the office. We can move away from boring or stressful jobs. Individuals are able to move their knowledge and skills around with them. They can get new ones as needed. Traditional large institutions are upended and replaced by upstarts. When everyone can communicate with everyone, power structures change faster than we can understand. 

The Crowd
We invent new things faster than we can adapt to them. Change and improvement is constant. The new gets invented by users rather than institutions. A new world of work is opening up. People around the world link themselves together to do sophisticated projects over time. Individuals move in, contribute, get paid or not and move on. These are new, collaborative human systems using shared, open source, peer production. They are not like capitalism or socialism. They are beyond the control of systems like capitalism or socialism.

Creative work is expanding. People produce and digitally share more books, films, music and artworks than ever. Solid state printers with shared designs make production of sophisticated and customized products possible. They are available to individuals or small groups everywhere. Unique ways of financing creativity, like Kickstarter, are emerging.

We are becoming networked beings, the Crowd. People can come together, cooperate and collaborate to build global networks of common interests. Individuals can use the free exchange of information to organize and influence change everywhere. The elites are losing control of information flow. Hierarchies are becoming hollowed out by networking. Ordinary people collaborate to shape opinions and actions that better serve their interests. The world may become more democratic, reflecting the will of the people. Or maybe not. It’s pretty much up to each of us.

The new technologies could end up controlling us. Young people live their lives on their smartphone. Teens mature later. They go out less, have sex less, drive less. Why go out when you can live your social life on your phone at home in bed? You are always on call and available. More time on screens leads to unhappiness. There’s an app or game for that. Teen depression and suicide is rising. We could spend our lives searching for trivia and clicking ads. Or these technologies may allow us to reshape our future. We could reorganize our world to better serve human needs and purposes. Many of us are betting on globalization, networking and rapid innovation in technology. They would break ancient patterns and save our civilization. Stay tuned.

As I see it, we are becoming the new humans. Each of us will be mobile. We will join with people we like and trust and live in places we enjoy. We will form loose communities to support ourselves financially, intellectually and spiritually. People will learn multiple skills to generate income or build businesses. More people will be private contractors. They will join others to form ad hoc organizations to solve problems or create value. Projects will emerge from people's skill sets and interests, the community or from mid-air. Useful projects will get crowdfunded.

Life Among The Screen Beings
We are faced with rapid, global changes that no one understands well or knows how to handle. Climate change, overpopulation, poverty, hunger, genocide,  economic failure, terrorism, infectious diseases, armed conflict, nuclear weapons. Our families are disintegrating in front of screens; the television, games, smartphones. Our neighborhoods are deteriorating. Our educational system has failed the people who most need it. The media sell fear and promote greed. We are responsible for the institutions that exploit us. Sooner or later we will get tired of getting ripped off and turn to new ways of being and doing.

Everyone faces technological challenges. Globalization is sending production offshore to low wage jobs. Automation is bringing production back, minus the jobs. This creates tension between the new jobless and business owners who suffer eroding profits. Our current form of capitalism will not survive this transition. Our communities will have to find income for people who lost their jobs to automation and robots. Otherwise, social unrest will undermine the economy. If all people become poor, who will the super rich sell their product to?

Automation and Artificial Intelligence
Robots can do almost anything we can. When a robot can do anything we can do well enough, humans will be out of jobs. Even if they aren't ‘intelligent’, machines will be both stronger and smarter than humans. Machines will manufacture, program, repair and manage themselves. They will be able to take over all routine work. We have a lot of intelligent machines that can mimic human behavior and intelligence. 

Monotonous, repeatable jobs will soon get done by computers or robots or AI. Computers and data systems are replacing office workers. Robots and automation are replacing factory workers and other repetitive jobs. Commercial drivers, retail sales, soon gone. Non-routine work will follow; construction, surgery, writing, policing and on and on.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. AI may operate in ways we cannot keep up with or even understand. Artificial intelligence and robotics are extremely powerful. They will only get better. Within 30 years, robots and AI will be able to do any task now done by humans. We’re seeing humanoid robots that perform tasks like cooking, cleaning, reading the news, comforting elders. Most of the things that can be done by robots and automation will be. We will invent new things for robots to do for us.

Automation will displace some people and create high tech jobs for a few others. Factory jobs and the local jobs that support them will go. Communities around them will live on reduced earnings and government aid. Receptionists, appointment schedulers and routine office jobs will disappear.  Smart technology will replace jobs, offices and work spaces. Self-service checkouts, automated medical diagnosis, legal research, self-driving cars, and on and on. Today, many industries are getting dematerialized. Books, music, pictures, documents and mail are migrating from paper, canvas and film to the web. Online education will reduce the number of teachers and schools.

Self driven cars will obsolete many taxi and truck drivers and transportation jobs. Even some automobile manufacturers will fade away. Direct order and delivery is replacing distribution chains. Warehousing, delivery services and all the folks they employ will go with them. The new systems only need a few smart people who can maintain drones, help program servers and analyze information. Jobs that are creative like marketing, entrepreneurship, advanced technical work will remain and grow. Industries like health care, food, telecommunications, computation will become cheaper as technology reinvents them.

Smart technology will invade homes. Amazon Echo and Google Home bots will talk to their users, answer questions, order products, play music, write emails, turn on the oven and tell jokes. We could come to depend on them for knowledge, advice and emotional support.

Computers and machines are taking over more jobs that now need human intelligence. Fewer workers, mean fewer paychecks and less buying. Jobs will disappear and new jobs will get created more quickly than ever before. People are getting released from work (and from income) to do what?

All of us who work will lose. The people who own the robots will win. By replacing workers with robots, manufacturers save up to 90% of their wage costs. Automated farms and factories will produce cheaper goods, forcing prices down. Living will be cheap but we still won’t have jobs or the bucks. We’ll need some kind of universal basic income available to all. Then we will be free to invent new things and shape new lives.

What's Next?
My guess is that the existing plutocracy will complete its control over politics and government. A tiny minority will live well on their terms. They will spend their lives accumulating and protecting artificial values. Their servants and a large group of technologists and managers will also live well. Fighting the rich only confirms and stiffens their beliefs. It also frightens them. They get guards and live in gated communities. Fighting the rich is a waste of energy. Better put our focus and energy in building a world for the new humans.

Instead of rebelling against hierarchies, we need to innovate our way around them. We can break out of class identities. We can build our own identities rather than trying to join a group by emulation. When you can 3D print an inexpensive car with your custom, personal look, who wants a Cadillac? Invention is the critical factor. Economic success gets driven by unconventional thinking. We are turning our country into a fragmented, pluralistic society. We will give ourselves lots of mobility and flexibility through our choices of lifestyle and community.

The new humans need to be ready and able to turn on a dime, learn a new skill, move anywhere. Everyone will need a basic competency and fluency in technology. Individuals will need to have several portable, personal skill sets. They will look for work opportunities that are in high demand, are not easily automated and that get paid directly. Job access will be direct to end user via the Internet. Creativity, collaboration, communication skills and lifelong learning come with the job. More work will be knowledge work, with a lot less constraint on location. More than half of workers will work virtually from remote locations. There will be more contracting type jobs and fewer full-time jobs.

One possibility. Folks create a revolution in do-it-yourself, make-it-at-home capabilities. They use new technologies such as 3D printers, and open source software. There is a whole online community of makers that build robots, drones, home security systems, almost anything you can think of. More of us will turn toward self-sufficiency. We will grow food, keep bees, work at arts and crafts, day care and other non-technological alternatives.

Your job will change to be more customer service and technically based. You'll get rewarded for the speed and results of your work. You'll have lots more options for what you do and how you do it. You'll likely work more hours (maybe flexible ones) for less money. You'll also have to compete with computers. Within 20 years up to half of the workforce will be independent contractors. They will group together on projects to provide goods and services..  Job-hopping will be common. Many people will have more than one employer.

The Crowd Again
All the peoples of the world will meet online to exchange ideas and services. They will transcend boundaries and join the global citizenry in global communities. We need to figure out what doesn't work now and how to fix it. We need to talk about the social system and government we want and how to bring it about. We need to set limits on the censorship, surveillance and propaganda we are willing to allow. We want communities based on: limited government, rule of law, due process, free markets, freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly, direct democracy, protected individual privacy.

Soon every person in the world will be able to choose to work on what they want to and do best. They will work whenever they choose, from wherever they want. They will get paid the real value of their production promptly and securely. People will collaborate with others to solve complex tasks. They can choose to live and work with their friends and family if they please. There will be no mandatory office hours, no commute and far fewer middle managers. YAY!

Workplaces will be more diverse and inclusive in gender, race, nationality and sexual inclination. There will be more jobs with more specializations. Yet there will be fewer jobs in any particular industry. Extreme pressure will get put on low end white collar jobs and high end blue collar jobs. Workplaces will change. Along with their regular work, people can work on projects and things that matter to them. People will get a guaranteed basic income.

We need networks of research and discussion. We can imagine and work toward the society we want to live in. We might try a combination of small to large organizations, each suited to its function. Small groups with shared values, beliefs and goals can coordinate. Fast, open communication among diverse organizations can hold hierarchies accountable to human standards.

Economic growth and new technologies will support diversifying lifestyles and social niches. Our consumer society is already in transition.  Cultural values, love of music, games and entertainment are as important as work or income. Our focus is on expressing our individuality in small groups linked by the Internet. We can live together in harmony, making babies, creating art, inventing religions and caring for nature.

In todays’s culture the emphasis is on getting and using. We are turning toward a culture of exploration and innovation. Lots of people have a desire to do something with their lives besides working and consuming. We're looking for a base in creative work, in imagination. We want to live in a community that lets us develop our skills and expand our experience of being alive. Using our imagination, exercising our creativity, taking journeys of discovery is the way.

Humans can be secure within a group of about 150 people we know and trust. We can get or make water, food, light, heat, shelter, communication, transportation. We are dependent on a supply of electricity, electronic transmissions, fuel and a water supply. We can sell our skills and products without having to work for big companies. We can take control of the technology and direct it to our purposes. Individual or community based alternative energy, water and communication systems can supply our needs.

Our group needs to have clear goals in a culture of dependability and trust. Our members need to feel safe, physically and psychologically. One possibility is to live invisibly in ad hoc communities. You could ignore the existing governmental structure and create a new system. Yet, this would not maintain a community or a civilization. We need a radical way of organizing the world to align with individual needs and a democratic social order.

Today you are giving yourself the experience you have inherited. You may be doing this without awareness and without making choices. Step aside. Look at the life you are experiencing. What is working and what isn’t? What changes do you want to experience? Stay present. Make choices then work toward them. It’s your life. 

©2012-2019 Keith Gilchrist - not for distribution or reproduction 4,418 words 13 pages 11/01/17

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