The Arendtian Axiomatic Reset in a Hyperconnected Era
The Proper Mix of Literacy and Policy…
If action is indeed characterised as a beginning whose consequences can never be undone, scientific discoveries and technological developments are action by excellence, as they cannot be undone and correspond to new beginnings. Thinking about what happens to us and framing the challenges in a hyperconnected era is one of our generation's tasks, and this ought to be done by balancing fears with confidence and control with wonder. Indeed, to reinforce and nurture the public space in a hyperconnected era, there is an urgent need to balance the omniscience-omnipotence utopia, pervaded by fear and control-seeking, with the plurality and natality perspectives, pervaded by confidence and wonder. This balancing generates a space where fears and risks are compensated by the confidence in beginnings, shared intelligence and practical wisdom. It generates a space where meanings are rooted in “in-betweens” rather than in “the more, the better” and where challenges are approached with “both/and” dualities rather than with “either/or” dilemmas.
To some extent, it invites to shift away from the dominance of a risk governance approach to a literacy approach. Literacy is the set of skills, understood in a wide sense, which enables the experience of plurality. Hence, abilities to communicate are central to literacy understood in the wide sense. In a pre-digital context, literacy is about reading and writing, but it goes much beyond the technical ability and reaches out to the ability to understand, to contextualize and to be persuasive. For example, each of us learn very young and, most often, very painfully, the subtleties of communication. We all experienced the differences between what we want to say to our mother or to our best friend, or between what we want to say in confidence, and what we want to say loud and clear. When things go wrong, we learn and we adapt, and little by little, we acquire that extended literacy. Literacy is made of a mix of technical, social and ethical skills and considerations. It is also highly evolutive.
As put nicely by Siva Vaidhyanathan23, in the hyperconnected era, “we are all babies”! Indeed, who is aware of what is accessible to whom when engaging on social networks, browsing on the internet, buying online, walking around with a mobile phone on, etc... Acquiring a digital literacy24 is a collective and societal endeavour that requires an uptake and “naturalisation” of knowledge and codes, about the different modes of communication in a hyperconnected era, and their consequences for plurality. It is about adapting common sense, fairness, respect, responsibility, freedom, and privacy into the new worldly conditions. Shaping this new version of literacy, which can be called a digital literacy, is an emergent and ongoing process: there is no monopoly for taking part in such a game. Policy making has surely a contribution to make in this endeavour, but it would be wrong to believe that policy can deliver such literacy, as it is wrong to believe that policy could prevent risk in an absolute manner. In the societal and multi-stakeholder endeavour of shaping this emerging literacy, there is a role for policy-making, as there is a role for each other stakeholder. Policy-making, by being aware of the current emergence of new forms of literacy, can identify where and how it can be responsive and add value to the workings of societal intelligence and the ongoing reshaping of the value content of notions such as privacy or identity, and adapt the policy frameworks accordingly25. This is not an easy task, as it may call for fundamental and uncomfortable revisions, leading to very sensitive transitions. In the next section, we will exemplify how policy and literacy can complement each other to address new challenges in a hyperconnected reality.