Mortimer B. Zuckerman
The cell phone was the star of revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt
The cellphone is only a few ounces in weight and a few inches in dimensions. It is about a thousandth the size of, and a millionth the price of, the most powerful computer at
So much for the speed with which millions of bytes of data can be transmitted and received. Consumers have recognized the social and commercial utility with almost comparable speed. The networked population has grown over the last two decades from the low millions to the billions. There are over 5 billion cellphone users and over 2 billion Internet users. They have historic access to information and to one another. They have seized the technology's facility to provide a common platform for virtual communities, whether through
We have seen, too, how the technology makes it possible to summon millions to a common cause virtually overnight. The technology revolution has become the handmaiden of political revolution on a scale nobody envisaged. Every agitated citizen is now a potential revolutionary. Unwise governments will resist liberalization in the name of "order." Governments used to ruling by fiat have been especially slow to recognize what it means when the advancing technology empowers their people, but dramatic change in connectivity cannot fail to have stunning political and social impact.
The history of political change and progress is a history of communication.
In modern times, the 1979 Iranian revolution against the shah was sparked by messages on cassette tapes recorded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In the 1980s we had the growth of the samizdat movement in the
Technology has transformed media from the one-to-the-many nature of TV into the many-to-the-many-more geometry of social media. Cellular networks have become what Secretary of State
In 2001 in
Yes, fundamental issues were at stake in oppressive rule, rampant corruption, huge unemployment, and poverty. But they had been for decades. The spark that finally set off the populist fire was provoked by new media and a social process that coalesced under the radar of military and intelligence services.
Digital democrats are not guaranteed overnight success. In 2009 in
Then there is
Since then, Chinese government authorities have tried to control access to technology -- even as they expand its role in extending their political and economic power in sustaining the one-party state. They are more determined than ever to police telephone calls, electronic messages, E-mail, and access to the Internet, both from within the country and from outside, in order to extinguish any hint of anti-government sentiment. They recently disrupted Gmail service into the country and tried to make it appear as if technical problems at
Much of the outcome has been depressing, but not totally so. The clampdown has not been absolute and technology is ventilating the repressed dissatisfaction and anger experienced by millions of people. The Chinese people want the government to embrace a civic society and the private sector. They know that the access of citizens to information technology cannot be denied forever. Sooner or later it will compel governments to build new alliances that reflect citizen power.
An opposition that once lacked organizational and communication tools will now be able to exploit connection technology that will be both cheap and widely used. They understand social media is not a replacement for real-world action, but the messages to them raise morale: You are not alone!
American policy must surely be to nourish the new technologies. Fortunately, many of the platforms supporting the networked public sphere are privately held and run, and most of them are based in
An unfettered Internet now affords another glittering prospect. We can now collect and retrieve once unimaginable amounts of information, analyze and correlate what we find, and disseminate the hypotheses and conclusions in the professions, in agriculture, and in industry worldwide.
We can also exploit these technologies to detect surprises before they become surprises. Collecting and mining vast quantities of data can tell us the statistical chances of flood and famine and financial disaster, of the real trends in climate change and disease, and of undetected patterns in responses to new medical treatments. The success of
Before the cyber revolution, it was just impractical to collect the millions of pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and see what kind of picture was emerging. One approach to tapping into the mood of a country is tracking what its citizens are searching for online -- for example,through
Behold the mighty electron streaking to mankind's benefit at the speed of light!
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