A topic of discussion at the Global Peter Drucker Forum last week was the effect that widespread digital information has on less well-off people’s views of their own situations. In the past, it was possible for people to remain ignorant of how the other half lived, because the information was not readily available. Today, ubiquitous messages on mobile phones, easy access to social media and ready-at-hand information from search engines means that people who are less well off now know it, particularly as the rise of income inequality makes the gap between richer and poorer people a common topic of conversation.
The results of this may well ripple through our social system in ways that can be unexpected. In today’s New York Times, for instance, Tom Friedman asks the provocative question, “Did Dubai Do It?”. What he means by that is that Dubai, a modern, vibrant place with several well-functioning private companies, can now be compared by ordinary people in the Arab world with the places they live. He gives this comparison credit for creating the frustration that led many to the streets in the protests of the Arab Spring. For good or ill, the new transparency means that no one’s lifestyle is secret any more.