The Internet is a young technology. People who are now in their mid-forties or older did not write e-mails when they were teenagers, nor did they use Facebook to chat with friends. In the meantime, young people in their twenties have been born into the digital age. In the past two decades, the world has undergone not only far-reaching political changes, but major economic changes as well.
Powerful global enterprises have emerged in record time: Amazon was founded in 1996, Facebook in 2004, YouTube in 2005 and Twitter in 2006. Nowadays, if we are involved in a discussion and don’t have the exact data readily available, we no longer have to run to the library and comb through reference works, we simply type in a keyword on our Smartphone and find what we want to know in Wikipedia, the free Internet encyclopaedia founded in 2001 and compiled on a collaborative basis, now containing 30 million articles in 280 languages. The trailblazer of this development was Google, which placed its search engine online on the day of the German general elections in 1998.
Demystifying the Internet
The power of the digital revolution lies in the fact that no-one is actually “forced” to join in. On the contrary, everybody “wants” to become part of it and joins of their own free will. Meanwhile, business processes without the use of this technology are unimaginable. In private circles, it has become the epitome of modernity and an essential part of modern everyday life. The digital world is now the world where most people live. Only hermits could follow the advice given by Hans Magnus Enzensberger in this very newspaper, namely to throw away mobile phones and slip, more or less voluntarily, into a state of blissful ignorance. No, the vast majority of people want to live in a place where the future has already started.
So we are not dealing with an external enemy threatening to colonise the world we live in. It is the emotions and identities of modern mankind that are at issue here. The revolution triggered by the personal computer, ancestor of all Smartphones, has resulted in mankind feeling that it has been technologically enriched rather than dispossessed. Consequently, we are not talking about a new Luddite movement here.
All the same, Evgeny Morozov is right in his merciless contribution “Digital Thinking? Wishful Thinking!”: We have to unshroud the mysteries of “the Internet”. For however seductively sleek, colourful and simple the user interface of digital change may seem, the programmes, reactions and dependencies behind the shining facade of the world wide web are unfathomable and impervious to the average user. The demand to introduce programming languages as a compulsory part of the school curricula is far from being absurd. In this digital age, a knowledge of programming languages undoubtedly determines our personal autonomy more than a knowledge of ancient languages.
The private lives of our miniature machines
We could start by demystifying the jargon surrounding the services offered on the world wide web. A “cloud”, for instance, is not something high up in the advertising sky, but as Evgeny Morozov rightly explains, a bunker in Utah. In reality, we entrust our personal data to monstrous, energy-guzzling data processing factories. “Smart” is another one of these magic words. Not only minicomputers, telephones and watches, but also fire alarms and car electronics, claiming to be “intelligent” or “smart”, ensure that we leave electronic traces of our movements and actions, our preferences and our habits which can be read, stored, linked and commercialised by others.