Dr Sven Bisquolm holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Zurich. He is a digital transformation expert, business consultant and university lecturer. He lives in Switzerland with his wife and children.

Copyright © 2021 by Sven Bisquolm

Internet: http://www.svenbisquolm.com

All rights reserved; no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

Printed and published by: BoD – Books on Demand GmbH, Norderstedt

ISBN: 978-3-7526-9767-4

Acknowledgments

What a journey it has been! This project has been the focal point of my life for the past three and a half years. It all started with a simple urge to write. Sure, I was writing a blog entry here or a small business article there, but it was never enough to quench my thirst. I wanted something bigger and more substantial. I wanted to add to the treasure of human knowledge, even if it would just be a small contribution. Consequently, a colleague friend of mine suggested that I could fuel a doctoral thesis with this calling. I was in my mid-thirties with a good job and couldn't really imagine going back to university, especially because my master studies took longer than initially expected and were more a hobby next to a career than the main pursuit next to a student job. Anyhow, life is never a straight line and after discussing it with my family, I decided to go for it.

Me, myself and I could never have completed a project of this scale without the support of some incredible individuals at my side. My doctoral supervisor, Prof. Katja Rost, inspired me to look at digitalization from a more critical point of view. It was the perfect topic for someone who had built computers since his childhood, liked video games and grew up with an ever-evolving, ever-growing digital community. Katja, her highly competent team and the entire staff of the sociological institute in Zurich always had my back when I needed methodological advice and challenging minds open to crazy ideas. My family was absolutely great. Alma and Francis, thank you both for the confidence and trust you put in me. Radmila and Miodrag, thank you for being the best parents-in-law one could hope for. Your child-care support was invaluable for seeing this project completed on time. Last and most importantly, my incredible partner in crime, the woman of my life, Jovana, thank you for your everlasting patience with my statistical jabbering and for being my solid rock through every high and low on life's stormy oceans.

Writing these lines at the end of the journey, I realize how much it has been a work of passion for me. It has been one of the most challenging adventures of my life. A great deal of sweat and tears went into it, but I learned something new every step of the way. The experience enriched my life academically as much as personally. It was an incredible ride and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. My deepest thanks to everyone who made it possible!

About this Book

As a fan of popular scientific books, it has been a dream of mine to write one myself for a very long time. The present book is the realisation of that dream. In essence, it's a shortened and more accessible version of my doctoral thesis. I'm a firm believer science and especially in fostering scientific understanding in the wider public. Therefore, scientific research should be written in a language that is appealing and entertaining, particularly in a topic like digitalization. Therefore, parts of the text have been rewritten and others have been removed entirely. Also, references have been reduced to ensure a more fluid reading flow. Should you, dear reader, be interested in the complete bibliography, statistical and methodological elements of the thesis, you can access the scientific version of the manuscript for free on ZORA under the following internet address: https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-197578. If you want to contact me concerning the content or the data, you can get hold of me through my website, www.svenbisquolm.com.

For my beloved daughters. May you live in a world where digital technology is more blessing than curse.

CONTENT

  1. DIGITALIZATION
  2. DANGERS OF A DIGITAL AGE
  3. COPING WITH DIGITAL DANGERS
  4. A HIGHLY DIGITALIZED SOCIETY
  5. TOWARDS A HEALTHY DIGITAL MENTALITY

1 DIGITALIZATION

Let me start by asking a question: When was the last time you spent a whole day without a smartphone or another device capable of accessing the Internet? That means no checking for emails, scrolling down the newsfeeds or playing video games for a full 24 hours straight. To be honest, I can't remember the last time I did. Maybe you have a better memory than I have, and you manage to do so. Whenever I ask this question during a presentation, the audience's reaction is quite interesting. More often than not, most people cannot remember either, and those that can have to go very far back. But the interesting part isn't how many can't remember or how long ago it was for those that can; it's the surprised look on people's faces that somebody even dared to ask this question. We need our digital toys with us, on us, always plugged in and connected. Is this behaviour healthy? I believe it is not, and that is the reason underlying my heretical introductory question: to raise awareness of the negative side effects of digitalization.

What is digitalization exactly? A buzzword of modern times, we have all read, heard and used it often in various contexts. Yet, the term is also frequently misused by amateurs and professionals alike. One reason for this misuse is that there is no unanimously agreed definition. A common misbelief is that it is synonymous with digitization. While the two words are certainly related, they are not synonyms. Digitization is the technical process of converting something from analogue to digital. In contrast, digitalization encompasses a much wider scope. The most suitable definition for the purpose of this book is by Brennen and Kreiss (2016, p. 6), who refer to digitalization 'as the way in which many domains of social life are restructured around digital communication and media infrastructure.'

Thus, digitalization is a gigantic transformative process that touches all spheres of human life and activity. Its benefits are as undeniable as they are indispensable; its potential dangers are as notorious as they are neglected. The widespread amalgamation of smartphones into an essential part of our being is just one questionable side effect of digitalization. A great many more potentially harmful dangers accompany the great digital transformation. The manipulation of minds through social media, the loss of privacy, the rise of hate speech and cybercrime are just a few other examples that will be discussed in this book.

The Digital Revolution is in full swing, accelerating, improving and connecting everything we know, for good and bad. Modern life is tied inseparably to digitalization. It's imperative for our well-being to understand its benefits and its flaws as comprehensively as possible. This book aims to contribute to this ultimate goal.

The following subchapters further introduce digitalization as an area of study. The first puts the Digital Revolution in a historical context. It shows where it originated, how it developed and how it compares with other technological leaps in human history. The second illustrates the reach of digitalization and how much modern life depends on its many innovations. The third shows how one can look at digital problems from three perspectives and the last sub-chapter lays out how rest of this book is structured.

1.1 Technological Leap of our Time

'The human spirit must prevail over technology.'
– Albert Einstein

We are a species of innovation, of change and of growth. Our pioneers and scientists seek to uncover the mysteries of nature. We want to understand how nature ticks. With mastery comes control through refined methods and new tools. The driving force behind this is obvious: We want to better and prolong our time on this small rock called earth. Although the alteration of nature is the most apparent effect, we reshape not only our habitat but also our own lives. Technological advancement is the backbone of this process, and occasionally a major leap happens. The Agricultural Revolution1 enabled us to feed billions instead of millions. The Industrial Revolution during the 18th and early 19th centuries introduced machines on an unprecedented scale, which paved the way for the mass production of goods. Both examples brought major societal changes with them. When we are able to feed more people with fewer resources and a smaller labour force, the remaining production factors can be put to other uses. These changes drove the masses to move to the growing cities as factory workers and service clerks. Infrastructure had to be built to serve the expanding urbanization: roads for cars, electricity lines, sewerage and the like. Besides the visible transformation of the urban landscape, some deeper and more fundamental changes took place in the ways people interacted with each other and their surroundings. The individual and society as a whole had to find ways to cope with these changes. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) envisioned the social repercussions of industrialization in his novel Hard Times as the creation of a mass urban society dominated by the regime of the factory and the pace of the machine. Its citizens functioning anonymously, replaceable and utterly dehumanized.

From a societal perspective, these changes meant the need for new laws concerning for example the rights of factory workers, factory owners, pollution and social coexistence in limited spaces. It took some time and no small amount of social unrest until labour unions, social security and environmental laws were established. It's not surprising that many romanticized the agricultural society of their youth and wished to return to a life more in tune with nature.

Let us examine another major innovation and how it affected people's lives. The proliferation of cars made it necessary to review the rules governing roads. The traffic law needed a major revision from addressing the needs of slow clunky horse carriages made of wood to quick and agile cars built of solid metal. Then the state in its legislative function instituted policy about the way we should drive. However, individuals first needed time to learn, adapt and follow the new set of formal and informal rules. We still need to learn these rules today. No-one is allowed to drive a motorised vehicle without a driving licence. Even if we do not drive cars ourselves, we still internalize the basic rules. Parents and schools show children as soon as they can walk how to use sidewalks and crossings properly. Who hasn't heard the following sentence during childhood? 'Look right, then left. Wait until the car stops. Now you can cross.' If you do not comply with the rules, your risk of getting hurt in traffic accidents is drastically higher. Likewise, if you drive a vehicle and do not follow the rules, you will be fined and eventually lose your licence. It is important to note that the relationship between technology and society is not a one-way street but reciprocal in nature. Consumers and legislators can further or hamper the diffusion of new technologies. For example, consumers are very much encouraged in many countries to buy cleaner electric cars through state subsidies and tax cuts.

The Digital Revolution is the technological leap of our era. The fundamental idea was formulated by Claude Shannon in 1948. He unfolded a new way of storing and accessing information in the form of just two digits, 0s and 1s (Shannon, 1948). This represented a major improvement over the analogue system, in which instances of changeable physical aspects determined the limits of its usefulness. In addition, digital computing allowed an infinite number of application possibilities. The letter 'A' can be represented as the binary sequence 0100001. The more sequences you add together, the more information and commands you can store. Together with the invention of the transistor,2 humanity could herald the Information Age.3

Almost every modern electronic device is built upon these two major inventions, from computers and smartphones to assembly-line robots and self-driving cars. Today, if it is not edible, any newly produced good stands a high chance of somewhere incorporating digital hardware and software. The vast distribution of digital devices, accelerating speed of communication and growing information storage capacity gave birth to a completely new industry at the digital frontier. The information and communications technology (ICT) industry gave us digital social networks, video games, emails and of course the Internet. Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Google4 became its data behemoths, with software applications for almost every conceivable use. The Digital Revolution is highly pervasive and directly affects every domain of human life from work and communication to leisure and entertainment. That is also the crucial difference from its preceding revolutions, it's unprecedented reach.

1.2 Modern Life in a Digitalized World

'The Internet is becoming the town square for the global
village of tomorrow.' – Bill Gates

When you live in the developed world, it is hard to imagine a society without the benefits of the Digital Age anymore. Communication is omnipresent, without boundaries of space or time. Our smartphones have become much more than a simple conversational tool in less than two decades. They are a TV, fitness coach and restaurant critic at our fingertips. Soon they are going to be sophisticated enough to be our personal secretary with charm too. Artificial voice assistants make it possible. Thanks to geolocation,5 they can help us find our way as no traditional map ever could. Everyday objects are interconnected and form the Internet of Things.6 From the front door of your house, which lets you speak to visitors even when you are not at home, to the self-checking fridge, which tells you when the milk is going sour, everything is linked. The Internet gives us access to vast libraries of knowledge 24/7. It can make visible the lives of friends you lost track of and lets you share your life and experiences with others in digital social networks such as Facebook and Instagram. Digital devices constantly monitor our bodies. Cameras and microphones incessantly record what we do and what we talk about. Gyroscopes and acceleration trackers, heart rate monitors, temperature sensors and a variety of other measuring devices document everything we do, when we do it and how our bodies feel while doing it. A modern smartphone has more than a dozen sensors installed. Fitness bracelets and smartwatches are two further examples. But there are many more mundane objects in contact with our bodies that feature sensors and are capable of measuring our everyday life. Think of intelligent clothes like Google's Project Jacquard jacket, with whose sleeves you can interact with your smartphone or a steering wheel with hands-off detection. At work, there is hardly an industry left that hasn't been touched by the Digital Revolution. Software makes processes and communication faster and more reliable than ever before. Automated production and logistics only require a handful of workers instead of legions. The digital workplace makes it possible for many jobs to be done anywhere and anytime our employers or we choose to do them.

Overall, discussions about who can or cannot be online and about the impact of connection speed have become obsolete. According to the OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2017, the average OECD country has a mobile broadband penetration of 102 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants (OECD, 2017). In two countries, Japan and Finland, the average is over 150 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. The global average landline subscription per country is about one third of the population. This means that some people have more than one fast internet connection and virtually no one is without access to the Internet. Today, if someone doesn't have access to a smartphone, computer or another internetcapable communication device, most likely this circumstance is by choice and not due to an external factor such as price or the regional lack of broadband network access.

Certain digital devices have become trend goods, their brands icons of modernity and progressive thinking. For some people, they represent symbols of their lifestyle. People will stand in line for the newest iPhone for hours, in some cases even overnight, or wait years until their new Tesla is produced. Aside from marketing-infused trend goods, the number of connected devices in general has skyrocketed in recent years. The Internet of Things will go from one billion connected devices in 2016 up to 14 billion by the year 2022. It's worth mentioning that the digital diffusion won't stop at fridges and TVs. The 'smart home' and 'smart city' are a reality, and they're becoming more sophisticated by the day (Cook D. J., 2012; Singh, 2014).

All of these items are interconnected and assisted by artificial intelligences (AI) that will make Alexa, Cortana and Siri7 look like antiques. Looking inward, we have not seen much technology in our bodies apart from pacemakers and other medical implants. This will change in the near future. Implantable devices, like embeddable phones, will be commercially available as early as 2023 according to tech experts (Reardon, 2016). Thousands of Swedes are already implanting microchips as replacements for IDs and key cards (Ma, 2018). The first brain–computer interface for truly hands-free communication doesn't seem to be so far off either. The University of California San Francisco in collaboration with Facebook's research department made considerable strides in this direction. Their non-invasive interface can decode single words from brain signals (Weiler, 2019). The researchers stress that it will take another decade until their system is fast and smart enough to be commercialized in useful ways. Imagine for a second what the applications of such technology will be. Mutes will be able to speak again. Computers and other smart devices will be controlled by thought alone. The police or others could look inside citizens' heads for the truth and other thoughts. A science-fiction dream or nightmare come true and a lot of work for our ethicists and politicians.

There are two important points to remember from this chapter: First and foremost, we live and breathe digital. Second, digitalization will not halt or retreat but advance further and transform all spheres of human activity.

1.3 Three Perspectives to Approach Digital Dangers

'The difference between a mountain and a molehill is your
perspective.' –Al Neuharth

Undoubtedly, digitalization is a tremendous benefit for humanity, but change of this magnitude also generates problems and a demand for new insights into how to deal with them. The effects of digitalization can be viewed from three perspectives: the state, the group and the individual. The state deals with questions of regulations and the jurisdiction of the digital sphere. Two questions of high importance in this realm are taxation and ownership of personal data: Where do tech companies pay taxes? The country where the company has its headquarters or where its users live? Who owns personal data? The person it describes, the company that gathered the data or no one at all? The group perspective is that of firms, clubs and other forms of organized individuals. Unsurprisingly, the profitoriented sector is very keen on using the benefits of the digital era not only to improve sales and production but also to engage and bind customers and employees in new ways (Wu T. , 2017). Emerging issues range from customer data security to privacy concern and to staff at risk of burning out. Far from the money-oriented corporate world, other non-profit groups, such as hobby clubs, NGOs and other associations, have to decide how they want to handle digital devices and possibilities as well. This can be the smartphone policy during yoga-class or the new internet forum of the local gardening club. The third perspective is from the individual's point of view: the citizen, the digital worker or the consumer of digital media. As individuals, we must decide for ourselves how best to live our lives. Nowadays this also means our digital lives. It's noteworthy to remember that the digital has become a substantial part of our daily routine in less than one generation.8 This raises the question whether we have also learned responsible conduct with our new digital devices and services. Recent research on digital burnout and online addiction (Markowetz, 2015; Montag, 2018) and even a quick look at the daily news suggest not. Where should I draw the line between the digital and the analogue? How much time should I spend on social media channels per day? How much information should I reveal online? You might have asked yourself similar questions at some point in recent years.

These three perspectives are fluid and overlapping. A specific problem can be viewed from any of these perspectives. Let us take the history of the internet sites visited by an employee on a company owned-laptop. This data is interesting for several stakeholders. The most obvious is probably the employer, who wonders whether the laptop is used for work or for leisure. Then, there is the search engine provider, who wants to monetize the advertising potential of the person in front of the screen. The individual using the laptop might not want to be spied upon and therefore takes preventive measures. That can mean that they are using anti-spyware or refrain from using the laptop for any personal queries. Lastly, the lawmaker must decide which means are deemed legal and which are not such as employee surveillance programs and customer tracking software. As one can see, the topic is accessible from the group, the individual and the state perspectives.