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The Internet as a Force for "Eh"

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, April 26 2010

Foreign Policy's Evgeny Morozov distills his blogging and tweets down to one handy article. If you follow Morozov's work, you'll know that he has serious doubts about whether the Internet is the force for good conventional wisdom sometimes blithely accepts it to be. "Sadly enough, a networked world is not inherently a more just world," writes Morozov.

It's straightforward enough to collect a stable of examples of the Internet and other connective tech making dictators more powerful, governments more totalitarian, corporations more controlling, and Morozov has done so here. Sure, you may have heard of the "Twitter Revolution" (a meme that Morozov has, admirably, done much to call into question). But did you know that the Iranian authorities put pictures of protests up online and crowdsourced snitching on participants? The idea that open, public government data translates inexorably into better government is also a worthy object of critical thinking. International copyright law is a mess, made more apparent by the boundaries erased by the web. And, it turns out that Google, despite their "Don't be evil" ethos, still sometimes behaves in its own best interest rather than in the United States', or its customers, or the world's. Film, yes, will be at 11.

It's easy enough to collect examples of dictators and companies behaving badly. Whether the Internet's effect will be a net good on the way that people organize, communicate, and eke out existences in this mad, mad world is still very much an open question. The Internet is disruptive, no doubt. We're seeing that in politics, but even more so in media, entertainment, and even business, though to a lesser extent. In a period of creative destruction, there will be a great many messes left laying around. Add to that that people the world over are still learning to use these tools, and its relatively unsurprising that companies and countries might actually have an advantage with them in the early going.

The Internet, at the most reductive level, is a medium for communication that eliminates many of the barriers of resources, time, space, authority, credentialism, and so on of the non-Internet-ed world. The world without the Internet is different than the world with it. (For one thing, there's a decent chance that a world with the Internet is the one where a President Obama is even possible.) Will that difference translate into a more just, more open, more livable world? It really seems extremely early to offer a decisive, sweeping "no."

Anyway, that's enough for now. Go read Evgeny's piece. More later, with a look at other peoples' reactions.