Monday, October 25, 2010

The Digital Disruption

The New York Times published an op-ed written by Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, and Jared Cohen, an official at the Council on Foreign Relations, on October 25, 2010.

In the article, the authors claimed that the Internet would empower individuals at the expense of the state. They cautioned that the Internet would not “always empower citizens in positive ways.” They believed that this era would be full of surprises. According to them, the most important thing is how the Internet “will affect relationships between individuals and states.”

Not surprisingly, the authors claimed that free-market democracies would do well in this era. But interestingly, the authors also claimed that the Internet would empower “autocratic powerhouses such as China.” That’s a pretty remarkable statement. Unfortunately, the authors never explain why the Internet empowers China. Let me take a stab at it. The reason why the Internet empowers China is because the Internet gives China a platform to tell the world about the wrongdoings of the West. The Internet gives them a platform of reaching out to citizens in the West directly, without have to go through the Western media.

Of course, the fact that individual activists have the ability to reach the public without using the media is a very scary concept for the West. Perhaps this is why the authors demand that activists “work behind the scenes when appropriate.” Perhaps this is why the authors demand that activists must ensure that their “efforts to expose wrongdoing do not strengthen governments apt to make nationalistic appeals.”

I take that to mean that the authors do not want people like me to inform the public about the crimes of the West against other nations. Of course, it’s okay to rail against third world countries and their governments. But to expose western malfeasance as the reason why so many of those third world countries are suffering, why, that might empower the governments in those countries. We can’t have that now can we.

“In an era when the power of the individual and the group grows daily, those governments that ride the technological wave will clearly be best positioned to assert their influence and bring others into their orbits,” said the authors. “Those that do not will find themselves at odds with their citizens.”

Here’s a hint for all the governments of the world. Don’t do what the American government has done. Don’t induce headaches, nausea, and hallucinations in your citizens in an attempt to get them to do what you want. People just might find out about what you have done.

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