When we think of new technologies changing our lifestyle, we mostly think of the developed world. But in truth it is in developing nations that new technologies are affecting more dramatically the fabric of society. From solar energy generators to cell phones, from mobile payments to delivery drones, all new technologies “point toward a decentralisation in production and distribution”, says David Orban, the founder of Network Society Project, a think tank in London. We met him in October in Milan, where he was invited as a speaker at the State of the Net conference. New technologies, he argues, make it possible for business to flourish in African and Asian countries that lack traditional infrastructure. Thanks to drones, for instance, you can deliver goods in a timely fashion even in absence of good roads. Thanks to solar energy, you can operate machines in remote areas where a grid connection would be prohibitively expensive. Similarly, mobile payments allow bank transactions in areas poorly served by the mainstream banking system. According to Orban, the most crucial impact of new technologies lies in the fact that they allow poor nations to bypass the infrastructure that they cannot afford to build. As a result, he argues, “differential advantage” in using them is higher in developing countries.
Could you explain the concept of “network society”?
First of all, we have to understand that technology has always shaped society – for instance, the industrial revolution has shaped a new urban working class. Nowadays there are many new technologies, all pointing toward a decentralisation of activities: solar technology allows individuals and corporations to produce their own energy without relying on a centralised production; 3-D printing is making factory production more decentralised, while plant led and 3-D printing of meat are making food production more decentralised as well. What I argue is that this shift from centralised to decentralised productions will result in a “networked society” where nation States and corporations will be profoundly transformed and decentralised, while individuals will thrive in a new way.