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by Frank Buytendijk  |  March 29, 2017  |  2 Comments

Think of everything you read and heard about the digitalization of business, digital strategies and digital platforms this week or this month, and put it aside. There is a much larger and much more important trend emerging: the digitalization of society itself. It’s a little like the Himalayas. You’re looking at a mountain ridge, and when you look up, just behind, there is another one, an order of magnitude bigger. And if you want to get across, those are the mountains that matter.

We can see this digitalization happening all over already. The country of Sweden wants to be the first cashless society. All digital. The City of The Hague, The Netherlands sued the makers of Pokemon Go. Because there were too many pokemons placed in the protected dune areas, people were climbing the fences and disturbing the wildlife. In Augsburg, Germany, there is a traffic light built into the pavement, instead of standing on a pole. Why? Because everybody is looking down, minding their smart phones more than the traffic. Dangerous!

We’re also noticing that the “rules of the game” are changing. Privacy is under pressure. Ownership of data (I’ve blogged about that before) is unclear. We think that artificial intelligence is still a bit creepy. And we’re all looking for new sources of customer value, and new digital business models.

We can’t design the digital society, it emerges as the sum of all digital interactions. But those digital interactions, for a large part that’s us, businesses communicating with their customers.

What is our role?

In the media, it’s mostly FUD. We’re afraid that robotization wipes out all of our jobs, and loose ourselves in what is largely a speculative discussion. We complain about our privacy on Facebook (if you can’t see the irony of that one, I don’t know). Not very constructive, and it doesn’t help progressing.

We can also choose to ignore the whole topic. After all, our responsibility is towards the shareholders. Or maybe we should focus internally first, getting our digital workplace done, and then we can take a look ahead to what’s coming.

Or… or… we take responsibility. We are all digital citizens. The digital society, that’s the collective of us. And what do we want this society to look like then? That’s a topic we should thinking about deeple, we should discuss it. With each other. We need to stay realistic, but shouldn’t avoid idealism, and optimism. Otherwise, change will drive us, instead of the other way around.

So let’s gather around the digital campfire (I owe the analogy to philosopher Maxim Februari). To discuss and to contemplate. To argue and to build bridges. Until we start telling stories to each other, on how the digital society should be.

What would those stories look like? Will they be about “receiving relevant offers from carefully selected partners”? And how to “monetize on our personal information”?

I doubt it.

The stories will be about freedom. And about how we can use technology to connect humanity better, and create a deeper understanding of each other. And about how we want to deal with digital technologies. We humans are technological creatures, our evolutionary advantage is in technological innovation. We are our technology.

That is what those stories will be about.

So, here’s what I have to propose. Put the #digitalsociety on the agenda of every round table you visit, every conference you attend. Every meeting you have with your peers. Tell your stories. And listen. Listen to the stories of others.

@FrankBuytendijk is a Research Fellow at Gartner Research, where he pioneers on the topics of #digitalethics, #digitalsociety and #digitalphilosophy. 

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Frank Buytendijk
Distinguished VP and Gartner Fellow Emeritus
10 years at Gartner
23 years IT Industry

Frank Buytendijk covers Data and Analytics, Digital Ethics, #DigitalSociety and Futures Impact. He is also the co-lead of Gartner's Maverick program, the company's incubator for unconventional research. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on #digitalsociety

  1. Frank — Have you seen the recent Edelman Trust Barometer findings? Trust is down across all organizations. Just wondering how much the move to an all digital society impacts that feeling. <

    • Frank Buytendijk says:

      Yes, and two years ago “technology” was even the main driver in the Edelman Trust Barometer. So there is a very clear relationship. But comfortable or not, it’s happening nevertheless. It’s not whether we want it, but how we want it…

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