Data is the new pollution

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on February 21, 2019

Author Andrew Keen

Internet evangelist and Skype co-founder Jonas Kjellberg believes retail will go 100 per cent online, while Andrew Keen, a strong critic of the internet culture, thinks re-invented brick and mortar is where shoppers will go

British American entrepreneur-author Andrew Keen believes the internet is debasing our culture and promoting mediocrity. Even as the world believes that data is the new oil, he thinks data is the new pollution and points out how he refuses to use free services like Gmail that are extracting our data and eroding privacy.

Keen believes there will be a pushback against the free model of the internet economy.

“Free is a bad model and problematic,” he says, citing the proliferation of biased news and views on platforms such as YouTube that offer user generated content at no cost. Eventually, discerning customers will choose to pay for quality content, he believes.

The futurecaster points to trends such as the return of handwriting (the latest tablet allow you to write notes with a stylus), the comeback of vinyls, the reemphasis on physical meetings and emergence of schools in the Silicon Valley that allow no computer exposure till a certain grade to predict that the analog world is here to stay.

He believes that many customers may turn away from online retail running on discounted models and return to stores. Of course, stores of the future will not be in their current form, but be reinvented places that merge many functions — a bookstore with a café and other services, for instance. But Keen admits that only the privileged can choose to exercise the option of opting out of the internet.

“There is a new digital divide now — it is not between those who have access, and those who do not, but one between those who can escape the clutches of the internet and those who cannot afford to do so,” he says.

Keen, whose first two books were extremely critical of the internet culture, however says that his latest book How to Fix the Future is actually more optimistic and offers solutions. In 2007, when the world was evangelising the internet, he points out he was one of the dissenters who painted a picture of the dark side of the web.

Now, ironically, when the world has woken up to privacy concerns, polarisation, trolling and other evils, Keen feels it is possible to fix it all.

There are five ways to do so, he says. One through regulation, and governments are already stepping up as evidenced by actions on Facebook and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), second through innovation, third through consumer activism, fourth through citizen engagement and lastly through education.

Published on February 21, 2019

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