Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Internet: A Force For Good, Or Just Good For Porn?

Do you share certain widely-held rosy assumptions about the beneficial political effects of global internet freedom? Assumptions such as these:

- The Internet Has Been a Force for Good
- Twitter Will Undermine Dictators
- Google Defends Internet Freedom
- The Internet Makes Governments More Accountable
- The Internet Boosts Political Participation
- The Internet Is Killing Foreign News
- The Internet Brings Us Closer Together

If you do, then Evgeny Morozov, the Yahoo! fellow at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy who also writes's Net Effect blog, urges you to think again.

Here's his bottom line:

Two decades in, the Internet has neither brought down dictators nor eliminated borders. It has certainly not ushered in a post-political age of rational and data-driven policymaking. It has sped up and amplified many existing forces at work in the world, often making politics more combustible and unpredictable. Increasingly, the Internet looks like a hyper-charged version of the real world, with all of its promise and perils, while the cyber utopia that the early Web enthusiasts predicted seems ever more illusory.

So far as I know, the State Department is still optimistic that global internet freedom will undermine dictatorial regimes by circumventing their control over information, and it even puts its money where its mouth is.

Which makes me wonder whether Evgeny Morozov has ever been in the same room as my hero Jared Cohen, the guy who is reputed to be pioneering the use of the internet to do all of those good things that Morozov says it hasn't done. Such as the revolution-by-twitter that didn't happened in Iran last year.

Speaking of Jared - I shouldn't, but I can't resist - here's his latest tweet:

RT @mkapor: More cell phones than toilets in India

Really? I've had more experience with India than I care to have, and I'm pretty sure that factoid speaks to a scarcity of toilets over there rather than to an abundance of cell phones, but okay, whatever.

Here's another one from a few days ago:

I'm thinking of taking a vacation to Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Central African Republic ... has anyone been?

I've been, and I can't recommend any of them for a vacation, although I must say that the CAR is the only place in the world where I could speak my fractured French without being laughed at, so I have to give the locals points for being patient with visiting Gringos.

Jabbering about your vacation plans is exactly the sort of thing that Twitter is good for. Undermining dictators and so forth ... not so much.

1 comment:

A Daring Adventure said...

The problem is that poor Jared can't hold a candle to you in terms of wit. So everything he writes seems inane in comparison. :)