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Wikileaks and the future

Is the Wikileaks conflict leading us towards a better and more open future or can it result in the opposite?

The Wikileaks phenomenon in itself is nothing but the natural consequence of Moore's Law and the emergence of omnipresent and ubiquitous communication and data gathering technologies. It is an effect that is one interpretation of the concept of radical transparency , a situation when there doesn't exist any barriers for information anymore and where everything is potentially known by everyone.

What Wikileaks really is doing is showing the world a small and relatively isolated (!) glimpse of what radical transparency might mean for governments.

One thing to note is that in the not too distant future we can expect that radical transparency will spread to companies, corporations and basically all other organizations as well.

The bigger picture - towards a completely new society

But what does this mean in the long run?

To understand the bigger picture and where this might lead we also need to add another underlying driving force to the puzzle. The driving force is the result of two distinct human capabilities: our ability to communicate and our capacity to innovate and create tools and structures. When looking back in history with these glasses we can identify this key driving force behind almost all major reorganizations of human society.

With the innovation of many-to-many communication on an individual level it is very likely that we are at a stage of radically transforming human societies once more. If this is the case we are actually part of a shift that will transform our society in a much more fundamental way than the relatively recent change from a farming society into an industrial society. Maybe the shift from an oral society to a text based society will be a more adequate comparison. If we are going to judge from previous reorganizations of humanity we can conclude that the majority of today's institutions will become obsolete or at least altered in a fundamental way. Including the corporations, nation states and even our cherished model of democracy.

Wikileaks, together with other P2P-related effects, are then just the weak signals lightening the murky path towards a very different future.

How do we get to the future?

The reason for a fundamental shift lies in the conflict of three seemingly incompatible concepts

  • Static hierarchic structures
  • Democratic models of power organization
  • Radical transparency

Democracy and static hierarchies have been working together for the reason that communication have been organized according to a broadcasting model where you have a few dominant broadcasters and accordingly can contain the discussions and the perspectives to a certain degree within a community. If you add radical transparency this isn't possible anymore and a conflict between these three takes place. The core of the conflict has not so much to do with democracy as has with the other two because the nature of the conflict lies in the fundamental incompatibility between radical transparency and static hierarchic structures and it is quite possible that democracy will be the victim in this conflict (placing nuanced comments by e g Clay Shirky in the naïve and idealistic corner).

A couple of years ago I wrote a quick post about how this upcoming conflict between new ways of organizing driven by the Internet and many-to-many communications on one side, and the traditional static and mechanically based institutions (e g governments) built on a broadcasting communications model on the other.

This conflict could be played out in one of four scenarios describing the different structures of conflict this could result in.

The scenarios were:

  1. A smooth sail - governments will just fade away with very little conflict in order for new governing structures built on new communications technologies to take their place
  2. Back in line - governments around the world will see and understand the coming dangers and will together succeed in restricting the Internet so that all threats to the traditional institutions are controlled and contained - resulting in a drastically more restricted Internet than we have today
  3. Full scale war - the world will be divided between countries who have too much to lose from letting the power move down to the Internet grassroots and others who actually have become reliant on the existence of a free and open Internet - since communication is now as crucial for survival as food and water an armed conflict of gigantic scale will follow
  4. Many small wars in different areas at different times - the conflict will be prolonged and played out in arena by arena, and not fuel a full scale global conflict, but will result in slow but steady changes in area by area

Which scenario do Wikileaks indicate?

The scale of the current conflict around Wikileaks suggest that scenario 1 is already out of the question. Then we have the other three left.

The rapid escalation of the conflict and the direct involvement of so many actors due to the choice of diplomatic arena, could suggest that Wikileaks is the first step in the chain of events that will lead to scenario 3 - Full scale war.

The force and fury by which mainly the US Government is acting might suggest that we are heading towards scenario 2 - Back in line. Will the other governments across the globe also realize who the real enemy to their position of power is and close their ranks in order to succeed in defending the current power structures – regardless of the consequences for the Internet and sacrificing the fundamental constitutional rights on which the modern democracies are built?

Or maybe this current conflict will be contained and slowly fade out? It could the then lead us towards scenario 4 - Many small wars in different areas at different times...

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