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We're now a good 40 years into the computer revolution, and maybe the best way to understand what's happened would be to construct a scatter plot of the results. We need to graph everything onto a Cartesian plane, in other words, with a vertical axis for the personal effects computers have had and a horizontal axis for the social effects.
So, for example, the ability to perform extraordinarily detailed, second-by-second monitoring of patients in a hospital—that would score high on beneficial personal effect for the individual patients, and it has fairly benign social effects. Plot it in the upper-right quadrant.
Ability - Behavior - Everyone - Setting - Score
The computerized ability to monitor the behavior of everyone in a public setting, however—that has a generally positive score for individuals, protecting us from terror attacks and criminal assault. But it has a negative score for a society stripped of freedom by constant surveillance. Plot it in the upper-left quadrant.
The digitizing of criminal records, making it difficult to dodge the consequences of, say, multiple drunk-driving convictions in different states? Great for society, bad for individuals. Belongs in the lower-right quadrant. And the creation of electronic telephoning, allowing the solicitations of robo-calls? Negatives for both society and individuals. Goes in the lower-left quadrant.
Computer - Revolution - Effects - Lot - Consequences
And there we are. The computer revolution has some beneficial effects and some malignant—and a lot of consequences that force us to choose among irreconcilable, rival goods. Thus, for example, it was always the case that we could have a free culture or a safe culture, but not both. But prior ages saw this mostly as a theoretical worry, since we simply couldn't watch out for everyone. The computer revolution has ratcheted that problem into one of the central dilemmas of our age.
Or, to take an example from the news, what are we to make of social media? Examining this topic...
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Individuals can exist without government but government can't exist without individuals.