In the first episode of My Perfect Country, the team explored Estonia's digital policy. Estonia has pushed Digital Citizenship, making everything available online - from paying tax, to medical prescriptions, to voting in general elections. But is this an important part of the Perfect Country? We asked Professor Patrick Laviolette for his input.
Professor Patrick Laviolette, Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Tallinn University, Estonia
Virtual technologies might not feature heavily in everyone's construction of utopia. Yet it seems rather difficult to deny that they would likely contribute significantly to any realistic set of strategies for making the world a more efficient, democratic, just and visionary place. Already by the 1930s, the biologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was writing about the evolution of humanity, whereby we would increasingly become an interconnected species whose mental activities became part of some 'noospheric' thought envelope.
Published decades after they were written, his theories attempted to predict a growth in telepathy, ESPextra-sensory perception, clairvoyance and so on (1955 ). In other words, he hoped to identify how a global consciousness might come about. What might this mean for our future and for that of the planet's? Many people have since described the internet, the World Wide Web, and the potential of similar virtual technologies as analogous to the main principles in de Chardin's idea
More recently and topically, David Bowie proclaimed in a BBC Newsnight television interview at the onset of the noughties “I don't think we've even seen the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to the possibilities that the internet will have on the development of what it means to be human. Not only ice is relevant here when considering these issues in relation to the Republic of Estonia. A small Baltic/Nordic country with one of the lowest populations in Europe, Estonia has been significantly ahead of the game when it comes to exploring and prototyping new initiatives such as e-education, e-citizenship and governance, as well as computing telecommunication systems. Start-ups in the area of the knowledge economy abound in this nation, which only adopted the Euro in 2011, on the back of having little international debt.
Nevertheless, there are some important questions to consider in this context. Are Estonians better informed about their civic rights and responsibilities? Is it a more democratic country, or at least, is the population less apathetic politically than elsewhere? Does the global character of e-technology allow for any emancipatory benefit, or sense of national belonging to Estonia's wide ranging diaspora communities?
Of course the answers to such questions should not detract us from investigating how other places can adapt and adopt some of the e-strategies that do seem to work well in Estonia. But we should not simply assume without any evidence that such strategies are beneficial just because their instigating rationale originated from benign sources. Indeed, we have learnt from similar studies into the implementation of domestic 'Telecare' assistive technologies to help older people remain independent in their own homes for as long as possible that there can be unpredictable negative repercussions from what are initially altruistic design plans