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The Reversal from Scarcity to Abundance, when it Comes to Information

The common sense vision on knowledge and information is underlined by the omniscience/omnipotence utopia. The assumption is that, if only we knew everything that there is to know, we would act perfectly, or, alternatively, that mistakes and wrong doings could be attributed to a lack of knowledge. This, again, has been challenged by some schools of thought for some time, but is now becoming commonplace. Indeed, we are orphans of the encyclopaedic ideal and subject to the new experience that the binding constraint is not our knowledge, but instead our attention capacity. Information, and even knowledge, is like what used to be a natural resource: plentiful. We have shifted our sense of boundlessness from natural resources (now recognized as finite quantities) to information and knowledge. Indeed, with the digital transition, there are fewer and fewer activities that do not produce a “digital shadow”. All the electronic devices we engage with (portable or not) leave a recorded trace: where we are, what we read, what we buy, not to mention the information we post about ourselves on social networks or blogs. Information is akin to natural resources of a third kind, besides the non-renewable and the renewable, we have the exponential. Instead of aiming at a global or encyclopaedic overview, we need to learn to navigate through information-saturated waters, and make sense of and value the abundance of information through datamining and other filtering activities. This radical mental shift has consequences on our behaviours as knowers, in our collective representation of what knowledge and information are, on the link between knowledge and action (consider the veil of ignorance) and also, more concretely, on the framing of the fundamental right to privacy, as the current principles of control and data minimisation on which the privacy framework is built fail to grasp optimally the new societal concerns regarding privacy, reputation and image.

The Reversal from Entity's Primacy Over Interactions to Interactions' Primacy Over Entities

We tend to pay more attention to what entities are, or should become, and consider the interactions between them as secondary. For example, we focus on defining what the EU should be, trying to “overcome fragmentation”—as we (too) often put it—in order to construct a coherent whole. By framing the issue in this way, we consider fragmentation as a negative and, as a corollary, consider unity as superior to fragmentation. Similarly, in our framing of relations with others, we often speak in binary terms: barriers (to be lifted), or walls (to be erected), for example. Thereby, we fail to pay proper attention to the quality and healthiness of interactions and relations between entities.

We are too often inclined to think that the solution to our problems lies in greater leadership, or in upscaling power or control. In fact, sustainability rhetoric points to the need to rebalance the relationship to the self (focus on identity) with the relationship to the other (focus on interactions). Achieving both more integration and more diversity can only be done with a relaxed approach to identity and a constructive approach to otherness6. With the digital transition, the importance of interfaces and interoperability is central. The primacy of interactions becomes a matter of fact, and identity is to be seen as the result of all interactions, instead of as a control variable. One of the practical implications of this mental shift is to pay less attention to size, to minimise narcissist concerns, to go beyond the fragmentation diagnostic and to analyse instead how the quality and efficiency of interactions can be improved to serve the overall purpose.

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