I am not sure how many of you are aware of the new book published this year by Google, Inc. The book is entitled, “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business,” by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen. 
The book starts out touting how the “new digital age” will bring a “better quality of life” and that “future connectivity” will make you “healthier, safer, and more engaged.” It is mentioned that a “key advancement is personalization.” You will be “able to customize your devices … to fit your needs,” and that “[p]eople will have a better way to curate their life stories…”
It is further explained that “the promise of exponential growth [in the transmission of digital information] unleashes possibilities in graphics and virtual reality that will make the online experience as real as real life, or perhaps even better. … Imagine having the holodeck from the world of Star Trek, which was a fully immersive virtual-reality environment.”
Now it is one thing to have a pleasant online experience, but this story as fully described in the book actually reminds me of the movie, The Matrix, where people live in an enslaved simulated reality. In fact, what are we to make of a somewhat nonsensical statement in the book such as the following?: “The arrival of more people in the virtual world is good for them, and it’s good for us.” I studied the context of this statement for a minute or two trying to discover who were “them” and who exactly was “us.” I concluded that grammatically the usage represented undefined pronouns, essentially empty words, but there was reference to a “collective benefit” gained through increased sharing of human knowledge in the virtual world. Overall, it just seemed that the tone of the book was that certain technocrats appear to think they know what it is “good” for other people.
Then there is the statement: “In the future, information technology will be everywhere, like electricity.” The usage of the word electricity reminded me of the radiofrequency waves that will be in the air connecting all of the wireless devices in this “new digital age.” Out of curiosity, I performed a key word search (for the Kindle version of the book on my hard-wired PC) for the words radiofrequency and microwave. The word radiofrequency does not appear in the book, and the word microwave appears once in the following sentence: “Given that today’s RFID chips can be easily fried in a microwave, the chips of the future will need a shield that protects them against tampering.”
And the word wireless? Yes, it does appear several times, as in the following examples:
- “People will have access to ubiquitous wireless Internet networks that are many times cheaper than they are now.”
- “And cell phones, tablets and laptops will have wireless recharging capabilities, rendering the need to fiddle with charging cables an obsolete nuisance.”
So there is absolutely no concern voiced in the book about the potential hazards of wireless technology. On the hand, there is recognition in the book that privacy is at risk in the “new digital age.” In fact, this is where the book portrays an ominous future. It is stated that “[t]he impact of this data revolution will be to strip citizens of much of their control over their personal information in virtual space, and that will have significant consequences in the physical world.”
The book mentions that it will be “important to fight for privacy and security in the future,” but yet explains that “users will voluntarily relinquish things they value in the physical world — privacy, security, personal data — in order to gain the benefits that come with being connected to the virtual world.”
And what about those people who do not wish to become “connected” to the virtual world? The book actually has a section entitled, “No Hidden People Allowed.” In this section it is described that:
“Governments may determine, for example, that it is too risky to have citizens ‘off the grid,’ detached from the technological ecosystem. To be sure, in the future, as now, there will be people who resist adopting and using technology, people who want nothing to do with virtual profiles, online data systems or smart phones. Yet a government might suspect that people who opt out completely have something to hide and thus are more likely to break laws, and as a counterterrorism measure, that government will build [a] kind of ‘hidden people’ registry… You might also be subjected to a strict set of new regulations that includes rigorous airport screening or even travel restrictions.” [emphasis added].
The book acknowledges that the spread of connectivity around the world involves a technology that “collects and stores much personal information … The risk that this information may be released is increasing, and while the technology to protect it is available, human error, nefarious activity and the passage of time means that it will become only more difficult to keep information private.”
In my view, the book “The New Digital Age” does not provide a vision of a bright future. It does entice one with a momentary “rush” you can sometimes experience when buying a new gadget at the electronics store. The book describes a future of contradictions. On the one hand, the digital age will allow people to live “safer and more engaged” lives. However, are you really “safe” in a world of wireless devices that “strip citizens” of their privacy, leaving them open to “nefarious activity”? The book describes a potentially dark future where people are effectively required to be connected to a seemingly abstract digital world. Although the new digital world can result in a “sharing of human knowledge,” it will increasingly be used my many as a form of escapism from reality. Furthermore, to refrain from participation in this virtual world may result in you being deemed by others as increasingly irrelevant and suspicious. Plus, there will be no truly “hidden people” allowed to live in the new world that lies ahead.
Relating the book back to topics such as smart phones, smart grids, smart meters, and smart homes, there are legitimate health reasons to oppose wireless technologies as discussed elsewhere on this website in terms of the adverse health effects of radiofrequency emissions. But there are also societal implications in terms of what kind of world we will become in some sort of vicarious virtual world of the future. Demands for “opt-outs” and wired technologies may actually allow a safer alternative for our society where we can not only preserve physical health for humans and other living organisms but also preserve proper respect for the true physical world in which we must actually exist.
 Schmidt, Eric; Cohen, Jared (2013-04-23). “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business.” Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.