Friday, February 4, 2011

I've a piece in today's Canberra Times, 'Internet a tool for tyranny as well as democracy'.

Looking at the recent example of Egypt, I'm arguing against naive ideas of technological liberation: that the internet will 'democratise', for example.

I'm also highlighting its power to waylay passion; to dissipate it, instead of building on it.   A sample:
the internet is no magic pill for democracy. When the internet first arrived, some theorists and commentators were quick to laud its liberating power. It was decentralized, fluid, diverse. The technology would encourage a removal of power from a few hands, and place it into the palms of many.
But this hasn’t happened. As demonstrated by the Murabak government’s shutdown, and Barack Obama’s planned ‘kill switch’ legislation for ‘cyber-emergencies’, the internet is not free from interference. China’s censorship makes the same point. It can be easily disconnected and filtered by governments.

The internet also has a worrying relationship between secrecy and invasion of privacy: the former for businesses, the latter for individuals. As Facebook and Google suggest, control over information is neither transparent nor equally distributed. Meanwhile, big players like Apple and Microsoft often use proprietary technology and laws to control how and when their products are used.

Access to training and technology is also unequal – not everyone has a computer, let alone internet access, or the know-how to use them.

The point isn’t that the internet is a simple tool of tyranny or inequality. Instead, it’s a simple tool, and no more. The internet is tied to specific individuals and societies. It influences both, and is influenced in turn. It’s complicated, but this is how technology works.
(Photo: Village Voice)

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