Dispelling the Digital Enchantment: how can we move beyond its destructive influence and reclaim our right to an open future?
By Karen Yeung
This paper outlinesthe content and contours of a fictional tale called the ‘Digital Enchantment’, based on theauthor’s observations and experience of high-level policy discussions concerning digital policy and regulation as anacademic lawyer with expertise in the governance of emerging technology. Peddled primarily by technologyindustry representatives, the Digital Enchantment captured the imagination of many contemporary policy-makersfrom the early to mid-1990s onwards as the early internet emerged. It celebrates the remarkable powers of digitalinnovation, capable of solving intractable social problems with an accompanying moral message exhorting itsaudience to recognize the importance of leaving the market free and unfettered, enabling innovation to flourishfreely. The Digital Enchantment rests on three core tenets: (1) digital solutionism, (2) the absence of ill-effectsdoctrineand (3) the extraordinary value of unfettered innovation. This paper outlines and critically evaluates eachtenet, demonstrating that they are based on alluring simplifications and half-truths that purport to offerreassurance in the face of our growing unease and anxiety about the kind of future that the digital revolution mightportend, while providing clear guideposts to policy-makers to refrain from legal intervention. It argues that we mustwork towards permanently dispelling the hold which Digital Enchantment still exerts over the mind of many policy-makers in favour of a richer, deeper and more clear-eyed, evidence-based understanding ofthe power and perilsposed by digital innovation and its relationship to law, regulation and society in our networked digital age.
page: 8 – 27
Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation
Volume 39, Issue 1