The digital civilization between freedom and surveillance: crossings and paths in hypercomplexity (2003)

«…society can only be understood through the study of messages and the means of communication related to them; and in the future development of these messages and means of communication, messages between man and machine, between machine and man, and between machine and machine are bound to play an ever more important part."

Norbert Wiener


«Technology tells us as do certain operations. She is silent in front of the Why»

Franco Ferrarotti


I gladly share it also with the SGI Community, as well as with all interested Persons


Research paths since '95                                 

As always…there are no “reading times”


The process of globalization - the radical and globalized outcome of the contradictory and sometimes ambiguous processes of "early modernity" - has made it even more evident, among many aspects, precisely there transformation of the modalities of the praxis of human action[1].

In particular, the so-called information and knowledge society has represented a real leap in quality, certainly favored by the great technological innovations that have led to the birth of a global communication system, but also by a widespread climate of confidence in the new utopia of the knowledge society. A new utopia which is based on the belief that the development of the information system and communication skills represents the fundamental prerequisite for solving, within social systems, both the questions ofintegration he was born in social control – whose need, moreover, makes that one necessary and “inevitable”. bureaucracy analyzed by Max Weber in Economy and society[2] – that the problem ofanomie (Durkheim).

The new potential for action and transformation of reality, introduced in the global practice since the advent of new connection technologies, have thus also marked the definitive affirmation of the Western globalization model which, given how it is taking shape, is destined to create new inequalities and conflicts: even if globalization itself can certainly prove to be a fundamental opportunity also for the least developed countries, provided that behind there is a project strong transnational which involves all the old nation-states.

The fundamental dimension of politics - as also written in the past - is increasingly marginal, in one global reality increasingly shaped by the liberalization of markets and of all information flows, which makes an in-depth reflection even more urgent also on the role and importance of having truly functioning and operational "global institutions", capable of governing the processes under discussion. Furthermore, the advent of the information society brings with it the birth of a new one Subject, protagonist of radical modernity, which we could define, even suggestively, as a «multimedia individual»[3]. A Subject – for some a new sovereign individual[4] – which will be able to use information technologies and shared data more and more, not only to acquire and use information of all kinds in an increasingly autonomous and hopefully aware, but also to to produce himself information And knowledge (I always repeat digital divide and especially, cultural divide permitting). At the same time, there is a risk that this new multimedia individual may prove to be a sort of "social atom" in the future, an expert in the new technological praxis, but increasingly (self) excluded from collective life and from unmediated social interactions. This could, however, lead – not everyone is convinced of this however – a further weakening of the social fabric and of the same civil society[5], a decisive variable for the life of democratic systems.

The sharing and knowledge economy represents an extraordinary "resource" (opportunity) which - it must be reiterated - cannot and must not remain a "resource for the few" (inclusion, asymmetries, skills), otherwise the rift between rich and poor, between included and excluded, between those who have access to resources and those who do not have access, between those who hold the know and the skills and those who do not possess them, will be definitive and incurable: citizenship and democracy are at stake (as we have said several times, categories to be rethought). The world-system is in serious danger of revealing itself more and more as a large global network, made up of hyper-technological metropolis connected to each other, whose borders are pressed by the new poor masses made up of those who have not access and they are not inside the new global ecosystem. In this regard, of fundamental importance – evidently, once a dignified survival is guaranteed and the infrastructures are made available – will also be literacy policies for the tools of the digital revolution and the training of new professional figures. It is necessary to develop international political strategies worthy of the umpteenth great industrial revolution in human history: a transition, which, unlike the others, due to the speed and complexity of the changes triggered, is unprecedented in the evolutionary path of social systems. A transition global which, in addition to exponentially increasing the cognitive and communicative possibilities, annulling the barrier of space-time, has called into question the value systems, identity and belongings: thus new dynamics, new social interaction networks that completely redraw the boundaries between public space And private space[6], relations with power and aesthetic fruition.

The technological revolution, from which the advent of the interconnected society, has created the conditions – for now, we add, especially in the “developed world” – for one growing integration between intelligences and machines, but, above all, for a growing interdependence between the parts that make up the world-system. At the same time, the nature of the average interactions and the new ecosystem forces social systems, together with the production, distribution, political and cultural processes that characterize them, to structure themselves according to a network logic which undermines old hierarchies and decision-making processes; but above all, it highlights anomalies and weaknesses of traditional interpretative models, previously capable of making social and organizational life relatively predictable. The problem is that, at least for now, we have not defined alternative models (the urgency of a paradigm shift), despite having refined the detection tools. But both the criticalities (control, total surveillance, asymmetries, functional illiteracy, etc.) and the resistance to change are many and will continue to be so if, in addition to not focusing decisively on education and training, we do not take care of the connective tissue of human rights and citizenship, seriously injured in these years. And that's just the logic interactive inherent in the model itself Big Network, which is based on communication and sharing of all resources (1996), that element which could favor the evolution of modern social systems towards ever more open and democratic models of society, as well as providing the basis for a strong project (transnational) of ethical globalization. The check of the complex dynamics of world capitalism and technological progress is a matter of knowledge management (complexity), but also, evidently, of information and data management, and requires precisely "shared knowledge" (2003) and culture of knowledge (collectively and socially constructed): an invaluable and inexhaustible asset that all of us, within the limits of our possibilities and the roles we cover, have a duty to nurture and disseminate, all the more so in an era that is severely testing the fundamental perspective of a new Humanism and the same concept of human dignity. We are far beyond the questions concerning the new utopia of the knowledge society and the narratives that accompany the digital civilization.

The global cyberspace and the Interconnected Society (2014) constitute a macro-nervous tissue structured as one net, formed by virtual communities[7] – in many cases, these are closed communities and networks – which, at least potentially, seem capable of recreating some conditions of the community living, re-proposing a well-known dichotomy formulated by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies who, already more than a century ago, used the "strong" conceptual categories - or rather the "idealtypes" - of "community" (gemeinschaft) and “company” (Gesellschaft)[8], to indicate a fundamental, and in many ways critical, phase of transition from an associative form – the community – based on natural and emotional relationships, as well as on a strong common will, to another – the society (bourgeois, industrial, capitalist) – founded on contractual relationships and, above all, on individualistic and utilitarian values.

The sharing of knowledge resources and skills, combined with adequate (and complex) policies of schooling And training on several levels, it represents a road that it is no longer possible not to travel: the technique it has put us in a position to transform reality, and not just to adapt to it. Technological innovation is a determining variable for the evolution of social systems and organizations, but by itself it is not sufficient. Again, they serve culture, shared knowledge And training to do metabolizing change to systems (1998) And effectively manage the phases of lack of control associated with accelerations dictated by technology – which, I remind you, is always a product of culture and not something “external”. But education, culture, shared knowledge and training also serve (and a lot) to broaden the platform of rights and freedoms (in responsibility), increasing the awareness that to be citizens and not "subjects", it is no longer enough to be informed (which, in any case, would already be a good starting point). The digital civilization of transparency and total surveillance makes us feel safer and (perhaps) connected to others but, at the same time, questions identities and fundamental rights. We still have to figure out how to live and interact within the new ecosystem, managing the dynamics…for not be managed.



There can be no digital citizenship (or inclusion) without guaranteeing the pre-requisites and conditions of citizenship, without (at least trying to) guarantee the equality of the starting conditions, the absence of which also makes all talk of meritocracy pure rhetoric.

[1] Already in 1996 I had spoken of anthropological transformation and a new ecosystem.

[2] See M. Weber (1922).

[3] See P. Dominici (1998) on this definition.

[4] See JD Davidson, W. Rees-Mogg, The Sovereign Individual, Simon and Shuster, New York 1997.

[5] On the concept of "civil society" see the work of Scottish moralist A. Ferguson (1767), An Essay on the History of Civil Society,, Essay on the history of civil society, Vallecchi, Florence 1973. Ferguson analyzes the evolution process of human societies and identifies in the birth of private property and private interest the factors that determine the advent of civil society. Social systems have also evolved thanks to the development of work division which however also caused alienation and weakening of the sense of community. Well in advance, Ferguson intuits that human societies will be able to avoid probable decline only by returning to the model of community, based on the active and conscious participation of the individuals who compose it in the common political life. Man, according to Ferguson, is the sole architect of the reality in which he lives and any social situation arises from his activity. Society itself is the work of man. Ferguson's ideas, as can be guessed, also greatly influenced Karl Marx himself.

[6] See J.Meyrowitz (1986), No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior, Beyond the sense of place. The impact of electronic media on social behavior, Baskerville, Bologna 1993, essay in which the Author, acknowledging ai average and, in particular, ai average electronics the power to influence social behavior, argues that this power does not derive from the nature of the messages they convey, but from the new configuration and organization of the "social environments" that determine and in which social interaction networks develop. The relationship between "physical place" and "social place" has greatly weakened, as a result of the fact that the new means of communication have made individuals lose the old "sense of place", eliminating any boundary between the "public" and "public" spheres. privacy" and even transforming the very concepts of "identity" and "social behavior". Meyrowitz, combining the theories of Goffman and McLuhan speaks of an "overlapping of the spheres of socialization" caused by the process of restructuring of the social stages on which we play our multiple roles. In other words, i average electronic – transforming the meaning of time and of space in social interactions – have profoundly changed the "situational geography of social life", configuring themselves as real "cultural environments". The system of average tends more and more to annul the existing differences between the "worlds of experience" of the individual social actors, even prefiguring a new social order. On these topics see the important works of E.Goffman (1959), The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Everyday life as representation, Il Mulino, Bologna 1969 and by M.McLuhan (1964), Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, The tools of communication, The Assayer, Milan 1967.

[7] See H.Rheingold (1993), The Virtual Community, Virtual communities, Sperling & Kupfer, Milan 1994.

[8] See F.Tönnies (1887), Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, Leipzig, ORReislad;, Community and society, Community, Milan 1963; this work represents a "classic" of sociological literature in which the theme of the transition from societies is addressed simple to those complex: the “community” is based on the bond natural which pushes men to unite, giving life to natural relationships, on a will organic common, on communicative codes and shared customs and, above all, on the predominance of collective interests over individual ones. The “society”, originated from a arbitrary will on the contrary, it is innervated by "artificial" relationships always aimed at achieving a "profit" and structured on the basis of contractual relationships.


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