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Pacing Along with Technology

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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”.

Pacing Along with Technology

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 completed her masters and doctorate degrees at both University of Oxford (UK) and University of Cambridge (UK). She participated in various projects in partnership with international organizations such as UN, NATO, and the EU. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at Bogazici University in her home town Turkey. Furthermore, she is the editor of several international journals, including IEEE Internet of Things Journal, Journal of Network & Computer Applications (Elsevier), Journal of Information Hiding and Multimedia Signal Processing...etc. She has also played the role of the guest editor of several international journals of IEEE, Springer, Wiley and Elsevier Science. She attended various international conferences as a speaker and published over 100 articles in both peer-reviewed journals and academic books. Moreover, she is one of the organizing chairs of several international conferences and member of technical committees of several international conferences. In addition, she is an active reviewer of many international journals as well as research foundations of Switzerland, USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom. Having published 3 books in the field of technology & policy, Ayse is a member of the IEEE Communications Society, member of the IEEE Technical Committee on Security & Privacy, member of the IEEE IoT Community and member of the IEEE Cybersecurity Community. She also acts as a policy analyst for Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research. Currently, she lives with her family in Silicon Valley and works for Google in Mountain View.

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