A bunch of folks sent over an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that goes out of its way to trash "techno-utopians" for believing that the internet is a good thing
and can be used to help fight authoritarian regimes, such as the one in Iran. The problem with the piece, written by Evgeny Morozov, is that it basically sets up a strawman that is quite easy to knock down:
It's easy to see why a world in which young Iranians embrace the latest technology funded by venture capitalists from Silicon Valley, while American diplomats sit back, sip tea and shovel the winter snow on a break from work, sounds so appealing. But is such a world achievable? Will Twitter and Facebook come to the rescue and fill in the void left by more conventional tools of diplomacy? Will the oppressed masses in authoritarian states join the barricades once they get unfettered access to Wikipedia and Twitter?
But who made that argument? The answer, which Morozov ignores or conveniently skips over, is no one
. No one is saying that Twitter or Facebook will replace
traditional diplomacy. No one says that Iranians with access to Wikipedia will suddenly overthrow their government. It's a total strawman that Morozov sets up because it's so easy to knock down and there's no one at all to defend it, because no one's said it.
Instead, what people are saying is that having better tools (which, by the way, go way
beyond Twitter and Wikipedia -- but it's easier to dismiss what people are saying by lumping the entire internet into two offerings) can help aid
in driving change. But no one is saying it takes away the need for diplomacy or real leadership. No one is saying that the technology can't also be used by the other side -- often to oppress further (as Morozov implies later in his article). The argument is that these tools, if used well, can augment
and help those fighting against such regimes. Further, the argument in many cases (though, certainly not all) is that if you provide better communication tools to "the masses," in the long run, that will enable them to more strongly advocate for their own rights. Though, again, that is as a process of augmenting true leadership -- not replacing it entirely.
Morozov uses the failure of Twitter to successfully allow the Green Movement in Iran to effect change and the (supposed) failure of West German TV in East Germany in the late 80s to lead people to tear down the wall, as his only bits of evidence. But, again, that presupposes the wrong thing: that it is the technology alone that leads to revolution. Yet, again, no one claims such a thing. The technology is a tool, and it depends entirely on how it's used as to how effective a tool it is for the purpose. But what many of us who believe in the forward march of technological progress feel is that, in the long run, the greater flow of information opens up more opportunities for people to step into a leadership role, and leverage the technology effectively.
So, yes, it's true that technology alone does not make a revolution. But no one claimed it did. That's just a strawman that's easy for Morozov to knock over. The real issue shouldn't be trying to disprove mythological statements from a nebulous group of "techno-utopian,s" but looking for ways to make sure those other elements are in place to make use of the technology in a positive and helpful manner.