In the Future, the Mission of Digital Platforms Will Be to Keep People Apart

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

For the second and perhaps last time in history, all of humanity is near instantaneously linked. The Zoom experience has convinced millions of that. But from here on we diverge for reasons that will be presently described. The first is rooted in physics. The light speed limit on communication has already forced engineers to rely on autonomous machine intelligence to control space probes. Designers could send men to overcome latency, but that would only mean they would have to be given plenipotentiary freedom of action.


The delay in communication between human outposts will inevitably grow from a few seconds (the latency to Earth’s orbit) to minutes, then hours as humanity expands into interplanetary space. From the point of view of command and control, bureaucracies will go from having the “total integrated picture” of the present to the great white spaces of uncertainty typical of 19th-century admiralty.

But it is not only physical speed limitations that will contribute to latency. Politics will play a part. The rise of data borders will also slow down transmission. The WSJ described the descent of a great Red Haze upon China. “China Increasingly obscures true state of its economy to outsiders”

New data restrictions have made it harder to get details on what’s happening inside the country…

China’s increasing secrecy isn’t the result of any single policy, businesspeople and political analysts say, but rather a combination of factors: a response to the pandemic, growing concerns about data security and a political environment in which the outside world is viewed with suspicion.

The U.S. has also taken moves to partially decouple the world’s two largest economies, including limiting Chinese access to American technology and research universities through trade and visa restrictions.

It’s not just China. For some years Western bureaucrats have been carving out information islands known as “digital free trade zones.” “For example, the Trump administration, as part of its NAFTA renegotiation bid, wants total data openness among the US, Canada, and Mexico… Similarly, the European Union is pitching a Digital Single Market to its members that would unify all European data, whether government or commercial, and allow its use and physical storage anywhere within the EU… Quel shi*show, and it begs the question: Can a global cloud system peacefully coexist with national sovereignty?”


The safe answer to that question is that between these islands transmission must vary and the global information universe will fragment significantly under the growing necessity to own or at least control your own data. From Xi Jinping’s effort to purge China of Western Woke ideas to French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour’s call for the French to “reconquer” France, chunks are falling away from the One Global World.

The establishment of a Trump media company, tellingly headed by Devin Nunes, former top Republican on House Intelligence Committee, continues this trend. It is testimony to the top lesson of the 2020 elections: You can’t build a political community inside the digital boundaries of Instagram/Facebook/Twitter/Youtube and live on their sufferance. The WSJ writes:

Mr. Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has told colleagues he plans to resign from Congress, a House Republican aide said. A spokesman for Mr. Nunes didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“Devin understands that we must stop the liberal media and Big Tech from destroying the freedoms that make America great,” Mr. Trump said in a statement from the company, which plans to launch a new social-media platform called TruthSocial.

The new mission of digital media, in addition to the old one of “bringing people together,” will be keeping people apart. These two influences acting together will foster new tribes. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, liberal social media has attained the highest accolade possible by inducing their conservative rivals to form new groups as they have done themselves. A recent BBC article described how family estrangement is growing, driven by Woke offspring who suddenly see their parents as the enemy.


It was a heated Skype conversation about race relations that led Scott to cut off all contact with his parents in 2019… It wasn’t the first time Scott had experienced a clash in values with his parents. But it was the last time he chose to see or speak to them.

… there is a growing perception among therapists, psychologists and sociologists that this kind of intentional parent-child ‘break-up’ is on the rise in western countries… research for British estrangement charity Stand Alone suggests the phenomenon affects one in five families in the UK, while academic researchers and therapists in Australia and Canada also say they’re witnessing a “silent epidemic” of family break-ups. …

Scott says he’s never discussed his voting preferences with his parents. But his decision to cut them off was partly influenced by his and his wife’s heightened awareness of social issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement and MeToo. He says other adult children in his online support group have fallen out due to value-based disagreements connected to the pandemic, from older parents refusing to get vaccinated to rows over conspiracy theories about the source of the virus.

That can hardly go unanswered. Together these forces of divergence, whether caused by communications latency or data islanding, will gradually unravel the sense of unity the world so briefly sensed at the end of the 20th century—a moment not experienced since the first sentient humans left their birthplace in ancient Africa, only to reunite once more and perhaps never again.


It was over this fleeting moment that politicians sought to impose their “permanent majority” in order to rule forever, only to see it overflow toward some further destiny, spawning new tribes like stars, whether doomed or greater than anyone imagined no one knows, but at all events free again.

Books: Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age. In Tools and Weapons, Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne bring us a captivating narrative from the cockpit of one of the world’s largest and most powerful tech companies as it finds itself in the middle of some of the thorniest emerging issues of our time. These are challenges that come with no pre-existing playbook, including privacy, cybercrime and cyberwar, social media, the moral conundrums of artificial intelligence, big tech’s relationship to inequality, and the challenges for democracy, far and near.


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