PARIS – Beyond the headlines, the embarrassment of governments, and the blow dealt to the secrecy of diplomatic correspondence, WikiLeaks’ exposure of US diplomatic cables offers a raw illustration of how deeply the essence of power has been altered in our information age.
Since its inception, the state has been the main vessel of power; access to power usually meant control of the state, whether by election or by violent takeover. This model, within which individuals are subjects or, at best, taxpayers and voters, is being undermined by several recent trends that have empowered the individual.
Consider the Internet, a network of connected nodes invented in the 1960’s, at the height of the Cold War, to preserve the United States from total chaos after a nuclear attack on its nerve centers. It was deliberately constructed with no hierarchy, no core, and no central authority, though few at the time could have suspected where, given the numerous breakthroughs of the digital revolution, the Internet’s built-in trend toward decentralized power would lead.
It has led to the second trend: a metamorphosis of the production process. Information has become much more than a message conveyed by technology; it is now the raw material of services-intensive advanced economies, and the building block of modern social and productive organizations.