In the digital age, the meaning of personal freedom is changing. Technology provides unprecedented access to global opportunities, improving our ability to earn a living and join new communities. We are developing strong, unique opinions without fear of repercussions.
But the world is in retreat from globalization, moving towards nationalism, and entering a period of neo-medievalism. A time where non-territorial organizations and ideologies compete for the loyalty of the same groups of people. Just like the medieval church competed for power with the feudal nobility.
On an individual level, we increasingly find ourselves with conflicting loyalties. As an example, you may want to end global warming but should it come at the cost of national competitiveness? Is your connection to humanity stronger than say, your connection to the USA?
As more nations adopt protectionist policies unique to nationalism, we can expect individual liberties and allegiances to become conflicted. You may increasingly find that national policy, company rules, or community ideals are oppressive to your beliefs.
In the next phase of the digital age, individual freedom and the ability to choose loyalties is becoming important. This phase is characterized by tech enabled mobility and the freedom it provides in the face of conflicting ideologies is becoming a luxury.
But what is freedom and how has it changed over time?
Freedom’s Transition From Industrial Age to Digital Age
In the transition from industrial age to the early information age, freedom had a slightly different meaning. The industrial age marked a transition away from subsistence living towards mass production and consumption. This provided a type of freedom. The ability to break free from widespread poverty, and a path to modern basic human standards of living.
Freedom from poverty manifested as a secure job with benefits and the security of a long career. This sense of freedom from poverty provided limited choice in lifestyle, but it ensured a way out of poverty.
With the internet, the smartphones, and a growing digital economy, the jobs and lifestyles coveted by society have changed. These changes marked a shift away from standardization and mass consumerism, to a society that prizes customization and niche consumption. And the nature of freedom has changed. Shifting from safe career paths to a model designed to create a unique path through life.
We now view freedom as open choice and flexibility of options.
And as we move further into the digital age, society will be reshaped by a push towards individual flexible choice. This freedom is expressed by voting with your feet. You can choose a career, a location to live, who to interact with, and who and what to identify as. And you have the flexibility to walk away from opportunities that don’t support these pursuits.
People will leave situations they find unfavorable when their preferences are challenged. Literally voting against policies and lifestyles they find unpleasant by moving away from what they dislike and moving towards opportunities that they believe in.
Freedom and The Technology Enabled Exit
Technology now makes it easy to change jobs and relocate so that voting with your feet has become a tech enabled exit. As an example, Glen Greenwald resigned from his job at The Intercept, because of policies he found to be overly restrictive.
Greenwald gained international notoriety for breaking the Edward Snowden story in 2013. Since that time, he co-founded The Intercept, to focus on serious investigative journalism. But in the current US election cycle, Greenwald felt his reporting was being overtly altered to benefit Biden’s campaign. According to his worldview, the editing style of The Intercept had taken to narrative framing that did not fit his journalistic standards.
So Greenwald opted for a tech enabled exit. He abruptly quit and immediately launched a paid Substack newsletter. Substack is a SaaS company that provides a self publishing platform to support writer’s with a subscription based business model.
Not all tech enabled exits are as flashy as Greenwald’s. But they are becoming common at a societal scale as a direct consequence of the push to remote work during the pandemic.
Freedom is A Luxury Good
Although the political issues of the Greenwald example are important, his flight to greener pastures is representative of a more important element. Freedom is a luxury good of the digital age that comes from technology enabled mobility. The choice to say, I don’t stand for a particular companies policies (Coinbase has dozens of employees move on over company wide political policy) or government management styles (San Francisco exodus) and to simply pick up and move on to another opportunity.
In the previous industrial era, workers were often severely restricted in their means to pick up and move. This included their employment opportunities as well. It was simply too costly and risky to leave a job under “questionable” circumstances.
Voting with your feet is increasingly supported by the Gig economy infrastructure and lifestyle oriented business models. Cultivating a loyal set of customers that will follow you across platform and location and conduct business with you from anywhere.
In Greenwald’s case, he has a loyal audience built over his career that would be willing to follow him to any publication. This loyal customer base provides him with the luxury of freedom. He didn’t like the shifting policies at The Intercept and simply left for another platform.
The Consequences of Digital Freedom
Society will begin to restructure as a consequence of neo-medievalism and the fragmented loyalties that are created by globalism. Remote and digital oriented work will give rise to The Sovereign Individual a new social class that covets digital age freedom. This social class will use the tech enabled exit to relocate to locations that support their worldview. And the ability to vote by exit will become a desired luxury good of the digital age. But the ultimate consequence will be that world governments will be forced to adapt in favor or against this new class of people.
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