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Making The Digital Society Work

By 7 April 2010 No Comment

This week is my start as a visiting fellow at Digital Society, though the interpretation of “at” is a bit tricky because DS is a virtual organization. The Contact Us page has no address, and the closest thing to a headquarters I have seen is the Silver Diner in Arlington, VA, though the old hands say meetings are sometimes held at Metro 29.

Digital Society is thus an exemplar of the digital society — reliant on the Internet and social media for interactions, wringing out of its structure the expenses associated with physical plant, unpretentious in that it impresses by the quality of its product rather than the opulence of its office, and running its OODA Loop on Internet time. Its staffers all have home computers and broadband, space for meetings and events is available for rent by the day, and the Silver Diner has good coffee. So why pay hefty rents for offices to be used 40 hours out of the 168 in every week?

Many, many others are making the same calculation, and The Cloud will, of course, reinforce the trend, with globalization adding more layers of both possibility and complexity. In business, the new paradigm is the platform company, which integrates the diverse offerings of many suppliers into a high-quality consumer product, with all parts of the chain dealing primarily via the cyber world.

My particular focus is on the legal and regulatory structures and rules that are necessary to make this digital society work, with emphasis on intellectual property, markets and their importance in facilitating innovation, creativity and (to lift a word from the academic left) generativity. My view is that:

It cannot be stated too often that property rights and markets are not antithetical to “cooperation.” Quite the opposite; they are the precise mechanisms by which advanced societies achieve cooperation. Nothing else works with comparable efficiency and justice — not voluntarism and certainly not command-and-control.

My entries here will indeed state this proposition quite often, but, as always, the hell is in the details, and the issues triggered by shift to the digital society are complex and often without totally satisfactory solutions. I can only do my best to point out the trade-offs, and justify my conclusions on where the balance lies.

Suggestions for subjects are always welcome. I can be reached at  james.delong@digitalsociety.org.

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