The New Digital Age : Book Review

The New Digital Age. The title promises precisely what the book delivers. I mean, what else would one expect when two big names unite to share their views and perspective on what digital holds for the world in the future? Eric Schmidt has been at the helm of the ever innovative Google and Jared Cohen who is a Rhodes Scholar and the director of Google Ideas. Cohen also makes it to the Time’s 100 most influential people in the world list this year. Being an avid non-fiction reader, there are many times i’m let down by some books when they really don’t get me as much information i’m hoping to seek. But this book had me glued. I mean, we google stuff so often and hear a lot about the changes that keep coming up in Android / Google Products. However, this book is more of an exploration of the information explosion that has happened over the past few years. Data is clearly the glue that will be binding a lot more than plain business or social media.
The book starts off with an introduction to our future selves. This part talk about education being the base for innovation and opportunity. We are already seeing this take to full force with children using tablets in schools which are aided by an army of apps that are simplifying classes for the masses. It goes on to talk about a better quality of life enabled with the high level of customisation that can be done using smartphones these days and how this will be pathbreaking in health care support. This is followed by the future of identity, citizenship and reporting which covers authenticity of profiles, the level of social uprising triggered via social media, government surveillance etc. We have already seen how several people and corporations handle their online image (reputation). I particularly found the idea of insuring one’s online identity against theft, hacking, fraud etc. I believe the time for this has almost come to try out and agree that online identity will be the new currency. They also go on to highlight the consequences of VOIP and P2P networks that can exchange data more privately (VPN). The AADHAAR program back home has also been cited to indicate the magnanimity of the UID initiative by our ruling government. I believe we know of quite a few scams in the recent times for this as well.
In the future of states, they have covered a variety of countries in the levels of censorship that are being dictated. Starting from China’s blocking of Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter to Turkey’s blocking of Youtube for 2 years over a debacle for taking down videos that were derogatory to the nation’s founder. Political & cultural censorship is taken up by South Korea, Malaysia and Germany which i think is a far more effective model.
We have all heard of the Arab Spring. The duo talk about how in riots, the internet lent a way for females to express themselves without being hurt. Also when the government blacked out the internet to avoid the spreading, the setting up of @Jan25voices handle helped in letting the world know about what was happening, albeit without any policy influence. They talk about a model where successful leaders will be able to address the concerns of both virtual and physical constituencies. I reckon this is happening as we speak in the Indian context where there are twitter armies for Modi (BJP) and Rahul Gandhi (Congress) battling it out in the trends and mentions everyday. 
Terrorism is another key issue that is detailed in this book. Activists, local networks, simple start up kits for them to propagate the hate would be enough. This will be a big issue for technology firms in terms of screening content due to the sheer volume of uploads per second across the web. Since most sites work on users reporting abuse / flagging content as abusive, the process will take time for them to actually block stuff. In the future of conflict, combat and intervention they address how a single post / photo/ tweet can be the beginning of something bigger on the lines of a revolution. A scary part talks about the “human flesh search engines” in China which basically means that there are scores of people whose objective is to search and track down the individual posting specific content that could be offensive. They go on to mention combat using robots and the dilemma of machines making an error during a highly targeted mission.
Lastly in the future of reconstruction they talk about how telecom in Somalia is so cheap that people actually drop international calls to call relatives back! In terms of community service, the HAITI campaign is mentioned where “text to donate” helped Red Cross to raise USD $5 million for relief campaigns. An interesting part talks of how crowd-sourcing will enable the culture of accountability. This is the most optimistic part where they go on to hope that creativity and bandwidth will be key drivers of innovation. All in all, i feel that even if you’re not working in digital this book is a great read to know what the frontier of technology looks like.
*image source credit: standard.co.uk
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