Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Revolution of the Private

A Creative Foresight Space (CFS) session held at the Technology Centre Innopark back in May 24, 2011 probed the futures of work and the internet. A central theme conversed on in the session was ubiquitous digital society, in which information and communication technologies are ever-present and everything that can be digitalized has been digitalized.

A thoroughly digital culture and societal structure immersed in communication networks will differ significantly from the ones we have been used to. This transformation will be crucially about  merging of the public and the private.
In the pre-industrial society the spheres of the public and the private were not as strictly separate as they now are. Industrialization divided the society into the two distinct realms. The public sphere became the space for production, commerce and political discourse, characterized by goal-oriented rationality, impersonality and protestant ethic. Private relationships, emotions, leisure activities and consumption -  driven by romantic ethic - were limited within the private sphere.
Throughout the eras of the modern industrial and postmodern information society a central concern and a theme of social criticism was the spreading of rational, impersonal and “cold” features of the public sphere to the private. Furthermore, institutions of modern/postmodern society were unable to provide for the meaning of life. Many of the problems of these eras’ were linked to alienation and rootlessnes.
In the ubiquitous digital society this phenomenon can turn upside down: private sphere invades the public. Public activities, including work and political discourse are once again becoming a realm for self-expression, subjective experiences and personal relationships. We may finally be able to reclaim the meaningfullnes we have lost. This transformation is happening mainly due to the transformations in the communication system caused by the internet
Before the internet and the massive spread of its applications and platforms, people’s subjective experiences and feelings, personal relationships, and inner-motivated activities were left to themselves. Publishing or commercializing of the products of personal activities was too costly in money, time and effort. Now, with the aid offered by the internet and social media, citizens are able to publish their self-produced contents and receive other people’s publications – and in general acquire free contents rising from the ethos of the private. In the near future this trend will spread to material production as well – thanks to digital manufacturing technologies such as 3D printers and laser cutters. By the legitimacy provided by publicity, self-expression and subjectively meaningful experiences and relationships will become indistinguishable and even dominant parts of our culture and economy, of our ways to value the world around us and to act in it.
In the environment of networked, zero-cost communication, formation of communities and networks around common interests and values is effortless. Connections between people and the volume of social interaction will increase significantly, and become crucial factors in production. Vivid and abundant communication will tear down the conventional boundaries between the private and the public, of e.g. between work and leisure, furthermore. We will be motivated by autonomy as well as the ethos of sharing – they promote and enhance each other. 

Discussions around the ubiquitous digital society often concentrate on technology. Technology is a mere enabler, though. The real changes are cultural. We are moving away from technology-driven information society to people-driven meanings society. The “public private sphere” will change societies radically, down to their roots.