There have been some snickers of late at the timing of Evgeny Morozov’s new book, The Dark Side of Internet Freedom (good NY Times review here). The revolutions in the Middle East supposedly gave the lie to his criticism of cyberutopians and their hypocritical Western government backers. I must admit I was momentarily caught up in the snickering — Facebook, social networking and more generally, the amazing advances in communications technology played a huge role in the overthrowing of Mubarak’s and Ben Ali’s regimes.
But two things have recently led me back to my fundamental sympathy with Morozov’s view (part of which I wrote about last year in one of my best-named blog posts ever, “Mao and the Facebook Panoptican“).
One is the incomplete revolution in Libya, which has reminded us that although the Internet has made social networking more efficient than ever (it didn’t invent it, obviously), the price of change in violent systems will still be sweat, blood and sacrifice. And the Internet does not reduce complex history and politics — like that in Libya — into simple stories of good and evil that read like the Readers’ Digest version of Lord of the Rings (or worse).
Second is this short piece in Mother Jones about unabashed video game booster Jane McGonigal. The comments here from some of the notable cyperutopians are so patently, jaw-droppingly absurd that I re-realized how much we desperately need voices like Morozov’s. Take a brief look at this interview of Wired cofounder Kevin Kelly (referenced in the MJ article). Or McGonigal on the power of video games:
“When every family in the remote villages of Africa, or in what today are the slums of India, or throughout Nicaragua—when they and everyone else in the world has access to The Long Game, that will mean greater access to education, culture, and economic opportunity as well.”
Point is, even if his timing is slightly off — through no fault of his own — a smart cynic like Morozov is essential to taking this ridiculousness down a notch. (HT to my pal grist.)
I leave you with an Outkast classic you may find relevant… or at least good music.
2 thoughts on “Digital Utopians, Party Poopers and Real Revolution”
Eamon, thanks for a wonderful post. For me I think online social networking has provided us with an easier way of organizing. We are seeing the death of the days when ‘rebel’ had organize in cells of 5, with cell members not knowing which other cells existed for fear of betrayal. Instead Facebook and Twitter are providing tools in which we can enter into conversation with other like minded people and recruit people to a cause en masse. It makes that part easier but still some people, especially in autocratic regimes, still have to do the tough offline tasks!
meant “rebels had to organize in cells…”