Commentary on ‘The New Digital Age’ by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen

June 23, 2013 at 9:54 PM
The New Digital Age - Eric Schmidt, Jared Cohen

Click to ‘The New Digital Age’ at Google Books

Here is a prescient book about the near future, a time when 5 billion of Earth’s citizens who have hitherto been disconnected from the Internet finally come online. The impact of this historic access to information and communication will bring profound changes to every aspect of people’s lives including the way their governments run the State.

Restrained in it’s analysis and conclusions but fanciful and ominous in it’s explorations, this book is required reading to understand the immense private and public opportunities (and challenges) all societies will be facing soon. Practically universal access to the Internet will change the course of human history forever.

Excerpts from ‘The New Digital Age’ by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen

“States and citizens both gain power from connectivity, but not in the same manner. Empowerment for people comes from what they have access to, while states can derive power from their position as gatekeeper.”
– Page 83

“The shift from having one’s identity shaped off-line and projected online to an identity that is fashioned online and experienced off-line will have implications for citizens, states and companies as they navigate the new digital world. And how people and institutions handle privacy and security concerns in this formative period will determine the new boundaries for citizens everywhere.”
– Page 34

“The Modern automation of warfare, through developments in robotics, artificial intelligence and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), constitutes the most significant shift in human combat since the invention of the gun.”
– Page 201

[…] local encryption specialists will be highly valued because trust is important. This is not too different from what we see throughout the Middle East today, where virtual private network (VPN) dealers roam busy marketplaces, along with other traders of illicit goods, to offer access to dissidents and rebellious youth to connect from their device to a secure network. Media organizations that cover international issues will rely on these scrappy young VPN and encryption dealers as they rely on foreign stringers to build their news coverage.”
– Page 49

“In the future, as the flood of inexpensive smart phones reaches users in failed states, citizens will find ways to do even more. Phones will help to enable the education, health care, security and commercial opportunities that citizens’ governments cannot provide. Mobile technology will also give much-needed intellectual, social and entertainment outlets for populations who have been psychologically traumatized by their environment.”
– Page 63

Eric Schmidt in the UK 2013 - Copyright Associated Press

Eric Schmidt in the UK 2013 – Copyright Associated Press

“Under conditions like these, the world will see it’s first Internet asylum seeker. A dissident who can’t live freely under an autocratic Internet and is refused access to other states’ Internets will choose to seek physical asylum in another country to gain virtual freedom on its Internet”
– Page 93

“In general, direct investments in infrastructure, jobs and services offer more to the economy than short-term aid programs, and telecommunications is among the most universally lucrative and sustainable enterprises in the commercial world.
– Page 222

“The shared, “bigger picture” goals of these states – access to information, freedom of expression, and transparency – would trump the minor policy or cultural differences between them, creating a kind of revived Hanseatic League of connectivity. […] No longer will alliances rely so heavily on geography; everything is equidistant in virtual space. If Uruguay and Benin find cause to work together, it will be easier to do so than ever before.”
– Page 98

“To summarize: States will long for the days when they only had to think about foreign and domestic policies in the physical world. If it were possible to merely replicates these policies in the virtual realm, perhaps the future of statecraft would not be so complex. But states will have to contend with the fact that governing at home and influencing abroad is far more difficult now. States will pull the most powerful levers they have, which include the control they hold over the Internet in their own countries, changing the online experiences of their citizens and banding together with like-minded allies to exert influence in the virtual world. This disparity between power in the real world and power in the virtual world presents opportunities for some new or underappreciated actors, including small states looking to punch above their weight and would-be states with a lot of courage. States looking to understand each other’s behavior, academics studying international relations, and NGO’s and businesses operating on the ground within sovereign territory will need to do separate assessments for the physical and virtual worlds, understanding which events that occur in one world or the other have implications in both, and navigating the contradictions that may exist between a government’s physical and virtual foreign and domestic policies. It is hard enough to get this right in a world that is just physical, but in the new digital age error and miscalculation will occur more often. Internationally, the result will be more cyber conflict and new types of physical wars.”
– Page 120

“Historically, a prominent position implied a degree of public trust; […] the visibility of high-profile leaders corresponded with the size of their support base. But in the future, this equation will be inverted: Prominence will come first and easily, and then a person will need to build tangible support, credentials and experience.
– Page 132


Creating space for others to build the businesses, games, platforms and organizations they envision is a brilliant corporate maneuver, because it ensures that a company’s products are used (boosting brand loyalty, too) while the users actually build and operate what they want.”

– Page 180


” […] with so many conflicting accounts and without credible verification, all claims become devalued. In war, data management (compiling, indexing, ranking and verifying the content emanating from a conflict zone) will shortly succeed access to technology as the predominant challenge.”
– Page 190

“In the future, political exiles will have the ability to form powerful and competent virtual institutions, and thus entire shadow governments, that could interact with and meet the needs of the population at home. It’s not as far-fetched as it might sound. Thanks to connectivity, exiles will be far less estranged from the population than their predecessors. Acutely attuned to the trends and moods at home, they’ll be able to expand their reach and influence among the population with targeted messaging on simple, popular devices and platforms. Exile leaders won’t need to be concentrated in one place to form a party or movement; the differences between them that matter will be ideological, not geographic.”
– Page 229

“Most post-conflict environments contain armed ex-combatants who find themselves without work, purpose, status or acceptance in society. […] they will find that the prospect of a smart phone might be more than enough to get started. Former fighters need compensation, status and a next step. If they are made to understand that a smart phone represents not just a chance to communicate but also a way to receive benefits and payment, the phone becomes an investment that is worth trading a weapon for”
– Page 246

“The case for optimism lies not in sci-fi gadgets or holograms but in the check that technology and connectivity bring against abuses, suffering and destruction in our world. When exposure meets opportunity, the possibilities are endless. The best thing anyone can do to improve the quality of life around the world is to drive connectivity and technological opportunity.”
– Page 251 (Conclusion) 

“Anyone passionate about economic prosperity, human rights, social justice, education or self-determination should consider how connectivity can help us reach these goals and even move beyond them”
– Page 251 (Conclusion) 


A great book, if a bit short for my taste. It occurred to me that perhaps one of the biggest challenges societies will face will be adapting to new technologies and thus social changes happening faster and faster thanks to the Law of Accelerating Returns, brought on by new and better technologies that relentlessly accelerate in capacity while diminishing in cost.

Android evices in different sizes