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Dossier Society

Should we Be Afraid of the Digital Revolution ?
Social Change, Tech-Optimism and Digital Dystopias


Five leading scholars of Big Tech studies share their views on the hopes and dangers of the on-going Digital Revolution. Their answers reveal the pressing need for more political, social and economic theorizing of these dynamics.

The idea of a partnership between CASBS (Stanford University) and B&I/LVDI (Collège de France) stemmed from the common ambition of our two institutions to enrich the public debate through cutting-edge empirical work in the Social Sciences and Humanities. Although a sixty-year interval separates the birth of these two institutions - CASBS was created right after World War II, while La Vie des Idées / Books & Ideas was launched in 2008, the year of the financial crisis - both were designed with a common goal: to make sense of a world in crisis and undergoing massive social change.

Both also aim to facilitate the circulation of ideas and their dissemination across all social strata as well as across national boundaries. These shared values are at the heart of our partnership and we hope that the content we produce together will help disseminate the ideas and analyses we present to an even wider audience in both the French- and the English-speaking worlds.
Our partnership will focus on three types of publications which will appear simultaneously in French and in English: reviews of books recently entered into the Ralph W. Tyler Collection intellectual portraits of influential and eminent former CASBS fellows; interviews of current CASBS fellows and faculty members.

According to Forbes, in 2022, 7 of the 10 richest people in the world have made their fortune in the digital economy and, 40% of the world’s 20 largest companies rely upon a platform-based business model. Rumor has it that “Tech is the new oil”. Many investors are divesting from fossil fuel holdings and increasingly moving their funds towards the digital economy. These massive flows of capital transform the structure of our societies, the same way oil revolutionized the world by enabling a cluster of innovations that led to the appearance of the various types of objects that shape our daily lives: plastic goods, paint, cosmetics, detergents, fertilizers, cars, planes, etc. In a comparable fashion, the digital revolution has transformed our immediate surroundings and our daily lives.

Internet, smart phones and data science are ubiquitous, and more and more economic activities are now mediated by on-line platforms and machine learning algorithms. These technologies drive the most important innovations of our time and attract the largest chunks of capital. They gradually shape a new material world in which people develop new sets of practices and habits. Our social and legal technologies still pertain to the former world, however. This is all the more worrying as the development of the data economy (i.e., the commodification of the digital data collected by the largest firms) is transforming the competitive landscape, leading to a concentrated market in which economic gains go to a very small number of large companies. These massive changes call for a new legal framework, but also, and perhaps more importantly, for a new ethics as societies built around algorithmic technologies require an ethical framework that can keep them in check.

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, CASBS is particularly attentive to the consequences and implications of this digital revolution. La Vie des Idées / Books&Ideas interviewed five members of the CASBS community who have long been working on the consequences of this massive social change. Analyzing these transformations from multiple disciplinary perspectives, they try to make sense of this very peculiar moment in which our societies are currently immersed.

Dossier's Articles

by Jules Naudet, 8 June

To quote this article :

Jules Naudet, « Should we Be Afraid of the Digital Revolution ?. Social Change, Tech-Optimism and Digital Dystopias », Books and Ideas , 8 June 2022. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL : https://booksandideas.net/Should-we-Be-Afraid-of-the-Digital-Revolution.html

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