Review: ‘The New Digital Age’ by Schmidt & Cohen

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

Review: Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business, Knopf, 2013.

The authors visited thirty-five countries and examined the Internet’s impact in each. The new digital age has a significant impact with both positive and potentially negative outcomes. They discuss both possibilities. They focus on the new level of connectivity that the digital world brings to individuals and nations.

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In perspective, connectivity in mankind has always been the yeast that has led to social and collective growth. In early man, the spoken word allowed groups to share sensory experiences and form collective societies. About five thousand years ago, the written word allowed mankind to share experiences across geography and time. Knowledge could be passed from one generation to another and transferred across geographic boundaries. The printing press increased our ways of storing and retrieving experience and documenting the ways man governed himself. Knowledge was stored and retrieved in libraries. 

The digital world allows us, with handheld technologies, to have the world at our fingertips. It impacts every aspect of life. It creates and uses large databases; it can infringe on security and privacy as well as enhance the quality of our lives.

Schmidt and Cohen believe the new digital world gives us a greater degree of connectivity with all people around the world. One example of this is, on an Internet program, I have a team of members who are Russian, Japanese and German. We all enter the Internet in our own language, but we read the messages in our own language. The system translates for each user so that the information is in our own language. In effect this means a greater almost instant connectivity for all people around the world.

The authors also examine the new opportunities for cyber terrorism. They suggest how we might regulate and protect ourselves from those who use these systems to disrupt society. They speculate on who might become terrorists and how we can avoid them. They also believe that the technologies will move on their own to reduce the problem of terrorism. Apple’s recent announcement seems to be an example of this.

Just as the printing press impacted every aspect of society, the new digital technologies will influence all aspects of society, especially education, business, government, and science. It is a book everyone should read but especially teachers if we are to take advantage of the new digital technologies.

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