It is logical for Western European governments to be reluctant to respond to technological changes: in our society, that is up to the market and the citizens. But now that digitization and technologization can no longer be ignored in our society, the government must take its role.
In (Western) Europe, the right to exist of the government is linked to the care for basic values such as security, care, welfare and freedom of citizens. When the first modern governments came into existence in our seventeenth-century cities, they aimed to serve the individual interests that could best be organized collectively. Street lighting for example, although in the past centuries more and more fell under the collective interest. The interests of citizens are still paramount. It is not without reason that we speak of the “public cause”. It enshrines the values that are considered important in our country for a well-functioning society.
The government, by definition, reacts reluctantly to technological changes. What citizens, the market and civil society organizations can do without government intervention is welcomed and encouraged. A second reason is that by name the market can respond much better to wishes of society than the government. Only in the event of undesirable consequences (social, economic or spatial) of (technical) developments or limited action perspectives does the government intervene in mitigating or supplementary policy. The government has always done so, like during the industrial revolution and the reconstruction. This morality and task orientation of the government are deeply rooted in our culture.
Until recently, the internet was dominated by the fulfilment of individual needs such as knowledge acquisition, communication and development. The restrained approach from the government was logically in line with this. There was no reason to develop accompanying policies or to organize matters collectively, it seems that we are at a turning point. The new technology is no longer new but has become the norm. Digitization and new technology are increasingly affecting the vital infrastructure and the government’s work processes. Moreover, it is no longer the case that the internet reinforces individual freedom.
Digitization is rapidly penetrating all aspects of social, economic and private life. Clearly, there is a new industrial revolution.
What makes this technological change extra complex is that not only do the tasks of the government change, but also the government itself and the way citizens value the government. This is due to what Professor Peter Paul Verbeek of the University of Twente calls technological mediation. In this theory, technologies change the relationship between people and the world in which they live. Sometimes in a very literal and direct way, such as with glasses, sometimes in a much more complex way, such as with a smartphone.
But how is our society changing and what role does the government play in this?
This is a pre-publication of the book “A smart city, this is how you do it – Connected, flexible and meaningful: make the real future city”. Want to read the answer to the questions asked above? Go to this page to order the book for free.
The original version of the book is in Dutch, click here to order the original edition. From this book is made an English summary. In the English version, we focus on trends.