The Interconnected Society and the illusion of having a less asymmetrical relationship with power

Technological innovation has always been a strategic factor of change in social systems and organizations, but without a culture of communication, without a systemic view of complexity, and on the level of political deciders, without social policies capable of sparking and upholding cultural change, it merely becomes a “would-be” innovation. Any analysis of the present-day challenges facing global citizenship, and specifically, digital citizenship, must, whilst maintaining awareness of the complexity and of the interdependency of the phenomena described, deal with certain premises regarding the new ecosystem (1995) and the myriads of implications produced by the so-called knowledge society/economy. Let us begin by attempting a possible definition:

The interconnected society is a hypercomplex society, in which the management and processing of information and knowledge have by now become our main resources, a kind of society where the exponential growth of opportunities for connection and information transmission that constitute the fundamental factors of economic and social development, do not yet correspond to an analogous increase in the opportunity for communication, which we define as the social process of knowledge sharing that entails equality and reciprocity (inclusion). Technology, the social networks and more in general the digital revolution, despite having determined a paradigm shift in the setting up of the structural conditions, allowing the interdependency (and the efficiency) of the systems and organizations, and having intensified the intangible flow between social actors, have not yet been able to guarantee that the interactive networks that have been created will generate genuine communicative relationships, based on, that is, truly shared, symmetrical rapports. In other words, the network has constructed a new ecosystem of communication (1996) but, although it has designated a knowledge zone, it cannot by itself assure horizontality or symmetrical relationships. Again, the difference comes down to who and how: the people and the uses that they make of technology, beyond the potential interests at stake.” (Dominici, 1998 and 2014, see also 2005, 2011)

All else aside, we are living along a socio-cultural horizon of prospects – of speech and action – but above all, of (short-term) strategies, which are still based on an unquestionably partial awareness of the multi-dimensionality , of the ambiguity, and of the unexpectedness that mark the processes of innovation and change. There is often a mere display of consciousness, leading to the diminution, at times to the trivialization, of the very concepts of communication, sharing, inclusion, citizenship or democracy. Running the risk, among many others, of rendering technological innovation an irreversible structural condition devoid of culture, another aspect we have pointed out many times before. Thus we will limit our discussion to understanding how speaking about inclusion, citizenship or digital democracy without making the effort to at least oppose those phenomena and processes that make them difficult to achieve (by hindering those innovations that are open and inclusive) is tantamount to legitimizing the mechanisms of a social historical connection that is more and more characterized by cognitive and cultural inequalities that clearly delineate social stratification on a global level as well. At the end of the day, the same can be said for the (absolutely crucial) “merit” issue, which must be centered around opportunity – in fact, if it is not intersected by other variables it risks being and regarding only the “merits” of those who have had the greatest head start regarding access to education, knowledge and culture. Take, for example, complex variables such as “educational poverty” and/or “functional analphabetism”, far too long underestimated, untold and invisible in the media. Until the day comes when the equality of starting conditions will be guaranteed for all, speaking about “merit” and “meritocracy”, as well as about “citizenship” and “inclusion”, will run the risk of being nothing more than pure rhetoric. Long before it became a “banner word”, we coined the expression “asymmetrical society”(2003), exactly in the midst of an extremely fragile phase of upheaval in which the mainstream (hegemonic) narratives on the web and the digital revolution were painting a picture, practically in terms of a causal nexus, of the rapports between “digital” and “participation”, between “digital” and “trust” – which are still being confused with popularity, not only from a political standpoint, as well as with certain ideas/views of “image” and “reputation” – between “digital” and “inclusion”; lastly, between “digital” and “citizenship”.

In acknowledging this cultural delay, we cannot avoid calling to mind – and strongly insisting on – one of our earliest formulas: connected citizens will not suffice; the citizens we need are those who have been educated and informed analytically, who have been taught critical thinking and complexity, who have been taught citizenship and not subjection. Citizens who have been taught citizenship (the same is true for the social construction of a culture of legality and/or a prevention culture: these have to be constructed at school!) – which is — let this be quite clear — made up of rights, which they need to be aware of, (à the strategic role of communication – almost always confused with marketing – which should be understood as simplification, sharing, access, transparency, services, inclusion etc.), but also of duties. In any case, it is necessary to act and intervene exactly where the structural conditions of this unequal society are being defined, at schools and universities, the “authentic” strategic resources of the new ecosystem. With core focus on educational and formative processes. Being free entails taking on significant responsibilities, which we must not fear. And in order to (at least attempt to) construct all of this, exclusively on a long-term basis, education and training must concentrate on teaching people (the person) and citizens to be capable of taking advantage of the opportunities offered by technological innovation, but also, and above all, of contributing to a social and cultural change that cannot overlook the need of dealing with “cultural issue” and with the lack of a shared ethics in the public interest.

Then again, “real” citizenship, actively participating in initiatives of public interest and, in a more general sense, cultural change are always complex products, generated, on the one hand, by bottom-up social processes and mechanisms, on the other hand, by the actions of that civil society and that public sphere, that are, at the moment, being absorbed and devoured by politics, which has taken away their authority. What are needed are long-term policies designed and carried out from a systemic perspective (a missing dimension). Otherwise, inclusive processes, platforms and dynamics will not be of much use, even if they have been designed and actuated according to a rationale of participation, activated by a public administration which — it is to be hoped – in the meantime, has become more and more transparent and efficient. The risk we are running – we repeat — is that of building a citizenship/democracy without citizens, which will be able to include solely those who possess the instruments and are capable of producing/processing/ sharing knowledge.

Technological innovation has always been a strategic factor of change in social systems and organizations, but without a culture of communication, without a systemic view of complexity, and on the level of political deciders, without social policies capable of sparking and upholding cultural change, it merely becomes a “would-be” innovation. The knowledge society and the new global ecosystem are destined to become more and more exclusive and inaccessible, even in those areas where it is not yet possible to put up walls and barriers to manage (?) diversity, inequality and conflict. The opportunities for inclusion and mobility guaranteed by the “asymmetric society”, apparently so open and inclusive, are in reality, only theoretical and limited to a legal framework.

To put Adriano Olivetti’s particularly meaningful words in a slightly (and perhaps arbitrarily) different manner, when he said: “I think of factories for men and not men for factories,” we must truly begin to think about (and to design) cities, territories, ecosystems, webs, public administrations, services and so on, for (and with) the citizens and not vice-versa: services, social spaces and environments that are actually (beyond slogans) centered around the citizens (although I have always preferred to say: “centered around the Person”; for a series of motivations which we will come back to some other time), whilst so often the sensation is that what they are centered around is something totally different. . . and I am referring not only to technology itself (opportunity), to the logics of power and/or of special interests, but also to an idealized image, still far from realistic, pertaining to the citizen-receivers of policies and services; citizens who, having been taught and “prepared” for citizenship, will become – literally — more and more involved in the decisional processes. At the moment, we are stuck within the illusion of having a less asymmetrical relationship with power.


N.B. Feel free to share and reutilize this published material, provided that you have the courtesy to always quote authors and sources, even when mentioning conceptual categories and related functional definitions. Let us share knowledge and information, but let us attempt to interrupt the vicious and non-virtuous cycle of the “cut and paste” routine, perpetrated by those whose know-how consists merely of “using” the work of others.

Citations should be made, in the first place, on the principle of honesty, and secondly, because our work (our intellectual production) is always the result of the work of many other people who, like OURSELVES, study and carry out research, helping us to be creative and original, providing us with orientation for our working hypotheses. The texts that I am sharing are the fruits of labor (passion!) and research, and as you will have noticed, they always include many citations. It is with regret and a certain amount of perplexity, therefore, that I continue to observe how this working method, which should characterize all intellectual production (not only academic and/or scientific categories) is being followed less and less frequently by many authors and scholars.

I still say that the rewards of sharing are well worth the bitterness for the dishonest behavior on the part of many. My contributions are the concepts, the studies and the topics of research that I have been conducting for twenty years: the principle of sharing carries many risks, but coherence means practicing what you believe in.

Ponder and enjoy!






Immagine: Marten van Valckenborch I, Torre di Babele