Friday, January 14, 2011

Technology and the Internet Do Not Promote Freedom (Alas)

That, in a nutshell, seems to be the thesis of Evgeny Morozov's new book The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. The book is reviewed here, and what I'm getting from it is that human nature, once again, trumps technology. Dictators and other nasties can use technology just as well as freedom fighters, and increasingly, they do.Technology can change the world in many ways, but utopia is no more likely to happen than it ever wasn't.


Silke said...

Malcolm Gladwell convinced me that the likes of me are into deluding themselves about what's achievable on the net also.
Alas as best I remember he didn't say much about how high the chances are that any of us net-affixed will write the super-bestseller that will change the world as Abraham Lincoln is said to have said about "Uncle Tom". Higher or heaven forbid lower than winner takes it all at Roulette?

Why the Revolution will not be tweeted.
by Malcolm Gladwell
OCTOBER 4, 2010 Social media can’t provide what social change has always required.
Twitter; Facebook; Civil-Rights Movement; Revolutions; Activists, Activism; Iran; Technology

Read more

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with that conclusion. The history of technology has always been to empower people more over time. That doesn't mean that instant liberty and happiness are suddenly available to all people as soon as new tech comes on the scene, but over time, in a process that varies from gradual to explosive but that overall takes centuries and generations to play out, tech is the engine that cause that long arc of history to ultimately bend towards justice, to paraphrase King.

marek said...

Long live optimism - but I'm rather with the sceptics. In general, an advancing technology promotes betterment of human existence, alas in a quite selective and discriminating manner.

Anonymous said...

I want my flying car.

But obviously googlebooks and wikipedia raise the bar in ways hard to quantify. So does the steady pulse of worldwide commercial intercourse. Eppur si muove. Remember when the typhoon hit Burma, notorious hellhole of East Asia, stomped under druggie military dictatorship? Power lines down, highways flooded- it was like central Illinois when the river rises.


Empress Trudy said...

I've always said that ultimately the internet is and will be a tool of oppression. If only for its ability to create mass socio-political delusions. It has a created a world where truth is merely one of many narratives.

Silke said...

yes Trudy and I think we have seen nothing yet - wait till the 68ers now all about to retire will hit the net in droves trying to relive their youths

Anonymous said...

Commerce promotes democracy. It was impelled the colonies to separate from England, and it was the impetus for creating the US Constitution. The internet propels commerce, making it easier, faster, cheaper, more diverse, etc. The rest is hot air.


Anonymous said...

quite so nycerbarb.

There's definitely a common notion that needs to be overturned here, but it's not that material progress drives social progress (the broader category that this question belongs to). That question is long since settled and obvious.

What needs to be overturned is the notion that the study of history more often than not brings wisdom.

It's simple nonsense that dictatorships, on the whole and in the long run, benefit from technology. Nycerbarb's point is precisely on point that revolutions happen when the little people are strong enough to make them happen, not because they're too oppressed and weak. All material progress has always made it easier for those who are not in power to function more independently and to build wealth for themselves. Such people, often called the "nouveau riche", always crave more freedom, more money, more power for themselves. When there are enough of them, revolutions happen.

It will happen in China, for example. There's no question of this, only of HOW exactly and when. But one way or another, power in China will be more broadly shared 20 years from now than it is today and much more than it was 20 years ago.

Silke said...

I happen to have read a rather lengthy history of Venice a settlement which started out as pretty much everybody having the same chance i.e. being very open to the nouveau riche climbing up the social ladder to making that privilege more and more a question of birth... and they sure were good at commerce and they were global to the extent that they had trading stations/settlements as far as Thailand.

I am stuck in a terribly artlessly abbreviated audio version of Tom Holland's Millenium where some discovered that when they got hold of the top of a rock they could dominate and suck of what went on below.

the ancient Greeks were great traders and had democracy albeit for a comparatively very short time, same with the Romans.

right now bank bonuses are made possible not least because of support from the taxes of the many, a new class of better than thou world citizens in the making.

my trust that commerce brings necessarily freedom and democracy is a bit weak

Silke said...


as you are on this thread I am proud to tell you that on another blog I won a "resounding victory" over a kind of soft troll by my, thanks to your recommendation, comparatively intimate knowledge of the life of Maimonides.

it is this report in today's Die Welt with made me remember the little triumph - it is a report from a visit to "Museo Vivo de Al-Andalus" in Cordoba, whose initiator was none other than a in France convicted Auschwitz denier. I think Google translate may be up to getting the facts across. Maybe that'll explain to you why I found the name Cordoba way too loaded to be peddled as a beacon of light in the US - "enjoy"

Anonymous said...

this cuts so many ways

Stuxnet may be the first of many plagues for Iran that seem to come from an invisible hand.

Technology is always most powerful in the hands of the free societies that create it.