Transparency or deconstructing opacity

Digital is not new, yet I still think of it as somewhat novel and about to transform the world as we know it. (By digital I mean the Web 2.0 incarnation, where the web evolved into an organic-like being, as opposed to the mechanical machine-like nature of Web 1.0.) And I’m still waiting. Sure, digital is becoming more sophisticated, softer and more pliable, clay-like, its nature is accelerative, predictive, replicative and transferral but it is not transforming our lives in the crucial areas that matter – out of control consumption and the associated patterns of environmental degradation.

Many things are changing, cars are becoming computers as are kitchen appliances, operating machines in hospitals, mobile phones … ubiquitous computing is here and for most of us it is happening as if by stealth.

But these are hardly examples of digital breakthroughs contributing to seismic paradigm shifts in the way we live. They are extenders, or prolongers, of the status quo and are solutions rooted in nostalgia for the carbon fueled intoxication of unsustainable living. What is the point of efficiency gains, acceleration, and increased productivity if the net result is increased consumption that cannot be sustained? A hastening of extinction.

Digital technology holds the promise to make things transparent. By transparency I mean the ability to see through phenomena. Digital technology allow us to deconstruct opacity, which is a good thing because an opaque world disempowers us. The flip side is that we may not like what we see, but it may just provide the motivation for meaningful behaviour change.

For example, we can use digital technology to ‘see’ air pollution, something that is ‘invisible’, and for a visual species things that cannot be seen somehow does not exist. If you can see something heading towards you, you have time to change course.

On the flip side I could argue that irrational concepts (unscientific) that are invisible, exert more sway over us than rational things (scientific proof) that are visible. And this is a worrying aspect of human behaviour.