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Larry Downes argued in his book The Laws of Disruption that despite the exponential changes in the field of technology, there is an incremental change in economic, social and legal systems which becomes an unavoidable issue in modern life.  Downes refers to this problem as “the pacing problem”.

Given today’s social, technological and political realities, there are three main drivers underpinning this phenomenon:

  • Social driver: Given the proliferation of modern technologies into our daily lives, the expectation of better technologies increase among the users.
  • Technological driver: Given “Moore’s Law,” fuels an ongoing growth of technological capabilities.
  • Political driver: Given the rapid-paced changes in technologies, governments become unable to adapt to related social changes.

The fact that social consequences of technology cannot be predicted in the early stages of the adoption phase, there arises a dilemma of control. At the moment of realizing that change is necessary due to undesirable consequences, technology has already become a crucial aspect of the social fabric and economic system. This fact also relates to the pacing problem although it implies a preemptive control of new technologies at a younger stage.

One of the authors who wrote extensively on this topic is the French scholar Jacques Ellul. Ellul asserted that given the persuasive and self-perpetuating nature of the technology, it acts as an uncontrollable force that dehumanizes the society. Such a view may sound strongly deterministic in comparison to social constructivist views on technology, yet, it suggests that in order to deal with the pacing problem, there must exist social and political willpower.

Still some other scholars, such as Konstantinos Stylianou, offered a variety of similar solutions bending towards a more soft version of determinism and asserted that as technologies are in rapid advancement stage, it would be easly for them to bypass related regulations; therefore in order to escape this “cat-and-mouse chase game'” between the technology and law, the field of law should stop underestimating the developments in technology ad try to embrace the field of technology as well.

Although this solution may sound too idealistic, it starts with realizing that given new features of some latest technologies our ability to manage newer sectors via means of regulatory mechanisms change. Yet, this should not mean that we reached the end of politics or law given the changes in the field of technology and the inability of policy-makers and law-makers to keep up with those changes.

While technology can empower individuals and institutions, entire systems of politics and law can be challenged. Therefore, bearing in mind that technology can be used for both good and bad intentions while being equally used or abused by governments to go beyond their existing control. In a similar vein, asserting that the pacing problem will undermine politics and governmental institutions will also be going too far. Simply recognizing the fact that the tools and society shape each other mutually may be a good point to start at. In other words, while some of the new technologies may have more power in controlling politics, that should not necessarily mean that individuals- aka society- has no power to bring order to this progress in the field of technology.

As Seely Brown & Duguid put it best in their 2001 essay:

The challenge . . . is to see beyond the hype and past the over-simplifications to the full import of these new socio-technical formations.

Given the reality of the pacing problem, it cannot be denied that it will continue to create problems for political and social systems. Yet, as Brown & Duguid suggest, we will need to constantly adapt and create new dynamic equilibriums, and then “muddle through,” just as we have so many times before.

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Ayse Kok
Ayse has over 8 years of experience in the field of social, mobile and digital technologies both from a practitioner and from a researcher perspective. She participated in various projects in partnership with international organizations such as UN, NATO and the EU. Ayse also acted as an adjunct faculty member in her home town Turkey. Ayse attended various international conferences as a speaker and published several articles in both peer-reviewed journals and academic books. She completed her master and doctorate degrees at both University of Oxford and Cambridge in UK.

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