I know I’m late to the love fest, but I’ve been under the flu. I read Pope Francis’ Message for World Communication Day when it was issued on Jan. 24, and I only get happier upon re-reading it.
NOTE please that I am outside of my comfort zone in this posting, for two reasons. First, I am not a Christian and I know I may be misreading the Pope’s words. Second, I am going to evaluate and expound on what a Pope says. Chutzpah* has a new poster boy! So, please think of this only as me trying to make personal sense of a message that I find profoundly hopeful. *[The joke this links to is not really about chutzpah, but it's a pretty good joke.]
The first thing to note are the ways the message refuses to go wrong. The Catholic Church put the “higher” in “hierarchy,” so it’d be understandable if it viewed the Internet as a threat to its power. Or as a source of sinful temptation. Because it’s both of those things. The Pope might even have seen the Internet quite positively as a powerful communication medium for getting out the Church’s message.
But he doesn’t. He sees the Internet as “Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter,” as the post’s subtitle puts it. This is because he views the Internet not within the space of communication, but within the despair of a fragmented world. Not only are there vast inequalities, but these inequalities are literally before our eyes:
Often we need only walk the streets of a city to see the contrast between people living on the street and the brilliant lights of the store windows. We have become so accustomed to these things that they no longer unsettle us.
Traditional media can show us that other world, but we need something more. We need to be unsettled. “The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity,” Pope Francis says, and then adds a remarkable characterization:
This is something truly good, a gift from God.
Not: The Internet is a source of temptations to be resisted. Not: The Internet is just the latest over-hyped communication technology, and remember when we thought telegraphs would bring world peace? Not: The Internet is merely a technology and thus just another place for human nature to reassert itself. Not: The Internet is just a way for the same old powers to extend their reach. Not: The Internet is an opportunity to do good, but be wary because we can also do evil with it. It may be many of those. But first: The Internet — its possibilities for encounter and solidarity — is truly good. The Internet is a gift from God.
This is not the language I would use. I’m an agno-atheistical Jew who lives in solidarity with an Orthodox community. (Long story.) But I think – you can never tell with these cross-tradition interpretations – that the Pope’s words express the deep joy the Internet brings me. “This is not to say that certain problems do not exist,” the Pope says in the next paragraph, listing the dangers with a fine concision. But still: The Internet is truly good. Why?
For the Pope, the Internet is an opportunity to understand one another by hearing one another directly. This understanding of others, he says, will lead us to understand ourselves in the context of a world of differences:
If we are genuinely attentive in listening to others, we will learn to look at the world with different eyes and come to appreciate the richness of human experience as manifested in different cultures and traditions.
This will change our self-understanding as well, without requiring us to abandon our defining values:
We will also learn to appreciate more fully the important values inspired by Christianity, such as the vision of the human person, the nature of marriage and the family, the proper distinction between the religious and political spheres, the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, and many others.
(This seems to me to be a coded sentence, with meanings not readily apparent to those outside the fold. Sorry if I’m misunderstanding its role in the overall posting.)
The Pope does not shy away from the difficult question this idea raises, and pardon me for having switched the order of the following two sentences:
What does it mean for us, as disciples of the Lord, to encounter others in the light of the Gospel? How…can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter?
That is (I think), how can a Catholic engage with others who deny beliefs that the Catholic holds with all the power of faith? (And this is obviously not a question only for Catholics.) The Pope gives a beautiful answer: we should “see communication in terms of ‘neighbourliness’.”
“Communication” as the transferring of meaning is a relatively new term. The Pope’s answer asks us to bring it back from its abstract understanding. Certainly the Pope’s sense takes “communication” out of the realm of marketing that sees it as the infliction of a message on a market. It also enriches it beyond the information science version of communication as the moving of an encoded message through a medium. (Info science of course understands that its view is not the complete story.) It instead looks at communication as something that humans do within a social world:
Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbours. The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other. Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God.
From my point of view [more here, here, and here], the problem with our idea of communication is that it assumes it’s the overcoming of apartness. We imagine individuals with different views of themselves and their world who manage to pierce their solitude by spewing out some sounds and scribbles. Communication! But, those sounds and scribbles only work because they occur within a world that is already shared, and we only bother because the world we share and those we share it with matter to us. Communication implies not isolation and difference but the most profound togetherness and sameness imaginable. Or, as I wouldn’t put it, we are all children of G-d.
Then Pope Francis gets to his deeper critique, which I find fascinating: “Whenever communication is primarily aimed at promoting consumption or manipulating others, we are dealing with a form of violent aggression…” And “Nowadays there is a danger that certain media so condition our responses that we fail to see our real neighbour.” The primary threat to the Internet, then, is to treat it as if it were a traditional medium that privileges the powerful and serves their interests. Holy FSM!
Pope Francis then goes on to draw the deeper conclusion he has led us to: the threat isn’t fundamentally that the old media will use the Net for their old purposes. The actual threat is considering the Internet to be a communications medium at all. “It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply ‘connected’; connections need to grow into true encounters.”
The impartiality of media is merely an appearance; only those who go out of themselves in their communication can become a true point of reference for others.
The most basic image we have of how communication works is wrong: messages do not simply move through media. Rather, in the Pope’s terms, they are acts of engagement. This is clear in face-to-face communication among neighbors, and it seems clear to me on the Net: A tweet that no one retweets goes silent because its recipients have chosen not to act as its medium. A page that no one links to is only marginally on the Web because its recipients have chosen not to create a new link (a channel or medium) that incorporates that page more deeply into the network. The recipient-medium distinction fails on the Net, and the message-medium distinction fails on the Web.
Now, this does not mean that Internet communication is all about people always encountering one another as neighbors. Not hardly. So the Pope’s post then considers how Christians can engage with others on the Net without simply broadcasting their beliefs. Here his Catholic particularity starts to shape his vision in a way that differentiates it from my own. He sees the Internet as “a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope,” whereas I would probably have begun with something about joy. (I’m pointing out a difference, not criticizing!)
Given the tension between his belief that faith has a way to alleviate the pain he perceives and his desire for truly mutual engagement, he talks about “Christian witness.” I don’t grasp the nuances of this concept (“We are called to show that the Church is the home of all” – er, no thank you), but I do appreciate the Pope’s explicit contrasting Christian witness with “bombarding people with religious messages.” Rather, he says (quoting his predecessor), it’s about
… our willingness to be available to others “by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence.”
Since that seems to imply (I think) a dialogue in which one side assumes superiority and refuses the possibility of changing, the new Pope explains that
To dialogue means to believe that the “other” has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective. Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute.
The Pope is dancing here. He’s dancing, I believe, because he is adopting the language of communication. If the role of the Catholic is to engage in dialogue, then we are plunged into the problems of the world’s plural beliefs. We western liberals like to think that in an authentic dialogue, both sides are open to change, but the Pope does not want to suggest that Catholics put their faith up for grabs. So, the best he can do is say that the “other’s” viewpoint be “entertained” and treated as worthwhile…although apparently not worthwhile enough to be adopted by the faithful Catholic.
There are two points important for me to make right now. First, I’m not carping about the actual content. This sort of pluralism (or whatever label you want to apply) takes the pressure off a world that simply cannot survive absolutism. So, thank you, Pope Francis! Second, I personally think it’s bunk to insist that for a dialogue to be “authentic” both sides have to be open to change. Such an insistence comes from a misunderstanding about how understanding works. So while I personally would prefer that everyone carry a mental reservation that appends “…although I might be wrong” to every statement,* I don’t have a problem with the Pope’s formulation of what an authentic Christian dialogue looks like. *[I simply don't know the Catholic Church's position on faith and doubt.]
I find this all gets much simpler – you get a nice walk instead of a dance – if you stick with the program announced in the Pope’s post’s subtitle: dethroning communication and putting it into the service of neighborliness. I believe the Pope’s vision of the Net as a place where neighbors can help one another lovingly and mercifully gives us a better way to frame the Net and the opportunity it presents. I assume his talk of “Christian witness” and becoming “a true point of reference for others” also gets around the “dialoguing” difficulty.
In fact, the whole problem recedes if you drop all language of communication from the Pope’s message. For example, when the Pope says the faithful should “dialogue with people today … to help them encounter Christ,” the hairs on my Jewish pate go up; if there’s one thing I don’t want to do, it’s to dialogue with a Christian who wants to help me encounter Christ. Framing the Net as being about communication (or information, for that matter) leads us back into the incompatible ideas of truth we encounter. But if we frame the Internet as being about people being human to one another, people being neighbors, the differences in belief are less essential and more tolerable. Neighbors manifest love and mercy. Neighbors find value in theirs differences. Neighbors first, communicators on occasion and preferably with some beer or a nice bottle of wine.
Neighbors first. I take that as the Pope’s message, and I think it captures the gift the Internet gives us. It is also makes clear the challenge. The Net of course poses challenges to our souls or consciences, to our norms and our expectations, to our willingness to accept others into our hearts, but also a challenge to our understanding: Stop thinking about the Net as being about communication. Start thinking about it as a place where we can choose to be more human to one another.
That I can say Amen to.
I apologize for I am forcing the Pope’s comments into my own frame of understanding. I am happy to have that frame challenged. I ask only that you take me as, well, your neighbor.
In a note from the opposite end of the spectrum, Eszter Hargittai has posted an op-ed. You probably known Eszter as one of the most respected researchers into the skills required to succeed with the Internet – no, not everyone can just waltz onto the Net and benefit equally from it – and she is not someone who finds antisemitism everywhere she looks. What’s going on in Hungary is scary. Read her op-ed.
Here are five of the top stories of the year according to our local weekly paper, the Brookline Tab. The paper says that these stories are in no particular order, and that another five will follow next week.
Styrofoam and plastic bags have been banned.
Residents are reporting that a a few of the wild turkeys roaming our streets have been aggressive.
A 180-pound black bear was spotted around town. It was tranquilized and transported to a wilder part of the state.
After losing a bid to build 271 residential units in Hancock Village, developers filed for permission to build an affordable housing project.
A dean at the public high school claimed he was passed over for the headmaster job because he’s African-American. A settlement was reached.
First world problems? What privilege looks like? Sure. But also an occasion to remember how blessed peace is, how wretched anything but peace is, and how fortunate we are that for our town peace is so mundane.
Tagged with: brookline
Date: December 31st, 2012 dw
My monthly column at Kmworld is about how the digital network has changed the basics of curation….
Here’s a sentence from the first paragraph of a long email solicitation I received today:
Truth Unlocked: Keys to Reaching Your Muslim Neighbor (www.truthunlocked.org) is a project that we feel God inspired us to create to help Christians to reach out to, form relationships with and simply love, Muslims here in North America.
Cool, I thought! Christians reaching out to Muslims in acceptance and love.
It took me until the end to come to the full realization what this is about:
Reaching out to the lost needs to be at the very top of our priority list as Evangelical Christians and we know that we need good tools in place to be able to Evangelize well.
I believe I got onto this group’s mailing list because I am on the Christian Alerts mailing list to stop Barack Hussein Obama from replacing the Christian American justice system with Sharia Law. It’s true!
, too big to know
Tagged with: 2b2k
Date: March 18th, 2012 dw
Ethan Zuckerman asks a simple question — is there a correlation between how many outside news sources the people in a country consult and whether those people’s language is spoken mainly in their own country? — and leads us through the quantifiable maze looking for an answer.
Ethan defines “linguistic isolation” as “how well does the dominant language of your nation affect your ability to engage with information produced in other countries?” Using data from Worldmapper, and after some careful discussion of the limitations of that data (e.g., he only considers first languages, which obviously skews results for countries where many residents speak a second language, especially since one would expect (note: I am data-free!) that in many linguistically isolated countries there is a premium on learning a second, more globally popular language), he concludes:
…looking at data from 31 countries, there’s some correlation (R2=0.38) between linguistic isolation and low international readership. But there are exceptions – Argentina and Chile both have very low isolation scores, but they don’t read a lot of Mexican or Spanish news… or even each other’s news. South Africans show high linguistic isolation (languages like Zulu and Afrikaans aren’t widely spoken outside South Africa), but read a lot of international media in English, though it’s a minority language. I’m looking forward to examining a larger set of media consumption data and trying this linguistic isolation score alongside other factors, like total population (small nations might read larger nations’ news) and migrant population (the desire to read news from home.)
I’m not a quant (obviously), but I like watching people who are when they are asking fascinating questions, and when they teach as clearly as Ethan does.
Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, has become a lonely voice trying to protect the Net’s most basic values. At a cultural ministers’ meeting held in Avignon last month, she had the temerity to suggest that the copyright system is not working to protect the rights of creators or to spread culture. Now she is suggesting that the Net can actually help the forces of freedom and democracy around the world. This new speech not only makes the case, it seems to have paid attention to the debate over previous claims that the Net is overall a positive political force, not merely a neutral technology, and not primarily a tool of oppression.
Neelie gave her full speech in Avignon in a closed door meeting, but she presented a version of it the next day at the Forum d’Avignon, which I was at and live-blogged. At the time, it struck me as certainly better than the copyright totalitarianism espoused by President Sarkozy, the values of which were mirrored by most of the participants in the Forum. But I thought Neelie was proposing nothing more interesting than adjusting copyright law so that more money went into the hands of more artists, rather than addressing the imbalance between the rights of creators and of the public. But I’ve been convinced by European friends, particularly Juan Carlos de Martin that I’m failing to hear her remarks in the right European context.
So, go Commissioner Kroes, go!
Tagged with: copyleft
• neelie kroes
Date: December 10th, 2011 dw
Here is an email Nagla Rizk sent to the Berkman mailing list. I’m posting it with her permission.
When we stormed the streets last January, we chanted “Aish, Horreya, Adala Egtema’eya” (“Bread, Freedom, Social Justice”). We knew exactly what we wanted: a better livelihood for all. At the time, Egypt was experiencing high rates of economic “growth”, a superficial sign of positive economic performance that did not trickle down to the masses. Part corruption part inaction, a 4-5% (or even the earlier 7%) growth rate was by itself meaningless as it did nothing to alleviate poverty or ease the merciless income inequality.
Equally serious was the iron grip on freedom of expression. In a typical Arab regime manner, Egypt focused on encouraging economic freedoms in the strictest neoclassical sense, while simultaneously continuing to harshly stifle political freedoms. Not surprisingly, Egypt fared relatively well on indices of doing business, while performed dismally on democracy and freedom indices.
The January chant, therefore, was a fierce cry against this asymmetry. More deeply, it was a cry for real development, one encompassing freedom of expression coupled with poverty alleviation and better income distribution. The cry of the masses reflected a street awareness of the complexity of development as human dignity and active citizenry — an enlightenment that the ruling elite lacked.
Ten months down the road, yesterday we chanted in Tahrir, “Aish, Horreya, Adala Egtema’eya” (“Bread, Freedom, Social Justice”). Why?
Bread and Social Justice:
No one expected bread and social justice right away. People wanted a roadmap, a plan, a timeline. They got none. Naturally, what emerged was a series of demonstrations and strikes by employees and workers whose demands were never acknowledged, let alone addressed. Rather than tackling the root of the problem or starting a dialogue with the protesters, SCAF chose to order them to go home. To add insult to injury, SCAF and its government portrayed them as the cause of instability, turning the rest of Egypt against them. Dividing Egyptians has been a repeated tactic by SCAF, supported by state media.
Meanwhile, the economy has suffered gravely. Tourism and foreign investments have been the obvious casualties. Egypt’s net foreign reserves have fallen from $36 billion in 2010 to $22 billion, its credit rating has been downgraded, prices continue to rise and the budget deficit to swell. The stock exchange has plummeted. The central bank has just announced it raised interest rates for the first time since 2009 to protect local deposits and the Egyptian pound. The rise in the cost of borrowing would lead to further contraction in the economy. As the state of street safety worsens thanks to SCAF’s incompetence, the economy continues to weaken.
Aggravating the situation has been the perception of the business class as allies of the old regime. This has put all members of the business community in one pot: the corrupt. The anti capitalist rhetoric (global really) has fed into calls for tighter regulation of the private sector within a general anti business environment. In addition to scaring away potential investors, the sad news is that several entrepreneurs and small business owners have closed down and workers have been laid off, compounding unemployment. Hardly any support would be expected from an incredibly weak government whose ministers are too scared to sign into backing businesses lest they should be seen as favoring the ‘corrupt’.
Egypt’s economy is in trouble. And as SCAF prolongs the transitional period, further instability is witnessed and foreseen.
The political atmosphere under SCAF is no different from Mubarak’s. Indeed, we are still under Mubarak’s emergency law of 30 years. So far, 12,000 civilians have been subjected to military trials. Currently our good friend Alaa AbdelFattah, the prominent activist and blogger, is detained by SCAF for refusing to answer as a civilian to a military tribunal. SCAF and Egypt’s police continue to torture detainees. Egyptian women detained by SCAF were subjected to virginity tests.
SCAF have also carried out unprecedented attacks on media, specifically attacking the premises of two television stations, both documented on video. SCAF have also exerted pressure on media content. Recently a prominent TV person withdrew his popular show in protest against SCAF’s pressure. And of course state media has continued to deliver false messages in support of SCAF.
On March 19, we excitedly participated in a referendum on 9 constitutional amendments to the 1971 constitution. The amendments were accepted by a 77% majority. Right after, SCAF dictatorially issued a constitutional declaration with 63 articles including the amendments with some editorial changes. This nulled the old constitution. Article 56 of the declaration gave SCAF their legitimacy as rulers of Egypt. This was not subject to a referendum.
On October 9, we wept witnessing the Maspero massacre, where SCAF vehicles brutally run down street protesters in scenes that moved the whole world. SCAF’s attempt to justify this act as carried out by civilians who stole military vehicles is laughable. If true (which it is not), such claim would illustrate the utter failure of SCAF to maintain security on the street. Additionally, attempts by SCAF and State TV to portray Maspero as a sectarian strife is another example of how SCAF labors to fuel divisions among Egyptians. No less is SCAF’s maneuvers to flirt with different political factions – first the Muslim Brotherhood and later the ‘liberal’ parties.
And now last week’s incidents in Tahrir and elsewhere in Egypt, particularly Mohamed Mahmoud Street. We have all witnessed footage of the atrocities of police officers shooting at Egyptians. SCAF representative and Minister of Interior have come out denying any shooting. This is an insult to Egyptians’ intelligence, no less than all SCAF crimes being investigated by committees assigned by SCAF themselves.
In short, we have a clear failure of SCAF to lead the political transition and to allow for proper management of the economy by an independent government. SCAF has ruled with an iron fist, with a very weak government in place. A mix of political naivite and the desire to protect own interests (they are a major recipient of US aid and a major economic player), SCAF’s amateur performance has brought to disarray the politics and economics of a very complex country.
As I write, Egyptians are divided yet again, thanks to SCAF’s insistence amidst this chaos to run elections on Monday and not two weeks later. Some want to boycott the elections. Among them are those who believe that voting will give SCAF legitimacy, which they refuse. Others believe their votes will be rigged in favor of SCAF’s interests. A third group is simply worried about the lack of security at the voting stations.
Boycotting the elections would be a grave mistake in my opinion. For the first time in years, we have a chance to choose representatives who would take us one step towards building a democratic state. It is our chance on the road to freedom.
The atmosphere in Egypt is now grim. Elections are around the corner while our people continue to be subjected to police brutality. Yesterday SCAF appointed a new prime minister who is refused on the street. Tahrir is coming up with an alternative. As I write now, a statement is being read on TV: revolutionary forces met with El Baradei who is willing to head a national salvation government if asked to do so by SCAF. And he would give up the nomination for presidency. No one knows what will happen in the next hour.
In the meantime, we continue to defy, mourn and hope. One thing we know: we should not again be storming out calling for bread, freedom and social justice.
November 26th, 2011
Tagged with: egypt
Date: November 27th, 2011 dw
On November 11, I had the privilege of being on a panel with Slim Amamou (one of the leaders of the Tunisian revolution) and Rick Falkvinge (the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party). The panel was organized by Luca de Biase at the Italian Internet Governance Forum in Trento.
Here are my notes, taken while up on dais:
NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.
“I will tell you the story,” Slim Amamou begins in Italian, switching to English after about ten minutes. Slim begins his story in 2010. “At the time there was a wave of censorship in Tunisia. Hundreds of bloggers who criticized the government were censored.” All the critical web sites were censored. That was retaliation “because we had waged a campaign against Ben Ali in the 2009 election.” Blogs that had nothing to do with politics were censored. “We waged a campaign that was very successful. There was a group at the time that decided to take to the streets for freedom on the Internet. That was in 2010.”
“Now, we were organizing that protest publicly, in a public way, but we were under a dictatorship. The government tortured opponents and harassed opponents, and what we were doing was perceived as a night of courage. We had to apply for the permit to have this demonstration at the Ministry of the Interior,” which was called the Ministry of Fear “because it’s where people were tortured. We decided to submit the application and filmed the whole process.” That little video went viral on the Internet “and we got very famous.” “So we started making a serial. We removed the fear little bit by little. People were afraid to talk about Internet freedom. The regime was so tough that you could be harassed or beaten just for saying that Internet censorship exists in Tunisia.” “Eventually I got arrested, but we got released, which removed a little bit of fear at the time.”
These protests were aimed at change, but not revolution. Our diagnosis was that “even if we take Ben Ali out, people don’t know who would become president.” “The mainstream media were so corrupt” that people had no idea who could manage the country. It was not possible to reform the mainstream media “because it was the people themselves who were corrupt.” “But the Internet seemed easier.” It was a technical thing, so you could press a single button and remove the entire censorship. “So we were committed to making a change in Tunisia, but we never planned for revolution.” “The revolution happened in a moment we didn’t expect.” The protests were almost solely organized using the Internet, social networks. “We were not a hierarchy. We were loosely coupled and constantly connected, and that’s how it worked.” So when the demonstrations started in Sidi Bouzid, the media didn’t cover what was happening. So a friend filmed what was happening and blogged about it. Another guy had a network over there…We organized a lot of things to get the information out.” A “snowball effect” happened, “and in the end it was the whole Tunisia that rose up.”
“You could interpret it as an effect of fighting for a free Internet. Ironically, at that time the Internet was not free in Tunisia. We had very strong censorship. In the long run we learned to circumvent it.” If you wanted to watch YouTube, you had to know how to circumvent censorship. [cf. Ethan Zuckerman's Cute Cats theory!] “We had to change our circumvention tools constantly, and even build our own technology. We adapted to the system, and eventually, at the peak of the revolution, we overcame censorship. I met with the guy who was responsible for the infrastructure and censorship at the time, and he told me that during the last weeks of the revolution, the list of censored web sites doubled. That meant that the government could not cope with the amount of data that was shared. We also adopted techniques and processes so that if someone finds a video on YouTube or Facbook or whatever, before sharing it, it downloads it in case it gets censored so it can be uploaded again. The whole system was organized in that way.”
“I got arrested again on Jan 6 and got out of jail on Jan 13. and on Jan 17 I was Secretary of State for Youth and Sports.”
In response to a comment later on by Rick Falkvinge, Slim said: “The day I was arrested on Jan 6, in the morning I got SMS’s and news about people getting arrested — a rapper, a blogger — so I knew I’d be arrested, so I tweeted: ‘I’m raising my threat level to orange.’ So I get a tweet back saying ‘Why don’t you activate Google Latitude on your phone so we can track you.’ It saved my life. At the time, you don’t get arrested, you get kidnapped: Nobody knows where you are and don’t get news of you for a long time. So for a humanitarian organization to certify you, you need to be gone for 48 hours to prove you didn’t just sleep over. But the guys who arrested me took my phone like a weapon but kept it open, so my position was known, and the news got out quickly, which is part of why I didn’t get tortured physically. The trick is to give the power to the people. We don;t ask to remove those technologies; we just want the people to use them, not the government.”
After the event, I asked Slim whether he thought the Net functioned as more than an organizational tool during the revolution. Did the use of the Net itself encourage political activism and give an experience of liberty that altered political consciousness? Yes, he replied emphatically. he disaagrees.
Rick says that when he speaks to sociologists about the Net, they divide in two. 1. Net is greatest invention since the printing press. 2. The Net is greatest invention since written language. The Net changes society that much, by giving everybody a voice. The Net is the greatest equalizer mankind has ever invented. It puts us all on equal footing.
The Swedish Pirate Party came on line Jan 1, 2006. “What sort of idiot thinks he can change the world by starting a political party.” But he figured they only need a few hundred thousand people to make a difference in Sweden. “If people had known just how dystopic a world we’re heading into, they’d be horrified.” E.g., German placing of computer activity recorders in personal computing devices. They can know all about your life. The only difference from the dystopic projections of the 1950s is that we’re buying the surveillance cameras ourselves. “Sharing is not a problem. People having a voice is not a problem. It’s the next generation of industries, of societies, of citizens.” So I took this web site on line. I went into file sharing mode and just typed two lines: Hey look, the Pirate PArty is online. I thought it’d grow gradually I got 3 million hits in the first two days. After three days there were sister parties in four countries. Now in 50 countries. There was a huge success in Berlin; the German Pirate Party is polling at 8-10%. The Italian Pirate Party is holding a meeting in Trento tomorrow.”
“We’re at a crossroads. The price of storing info has gone to zero. The Stassi were using typewriters and carbon paper. Imagine they had today’s tools…The potential for abuse is enormous.”
“At our core, we’re a civil liberties organization. We’re demanding that our children have the same civil liberties that our parents had. We’re demanding that when everyone has a voice, they get to use that voice without being forced to conform to the gov’t. Diversity is enormously positive…We have an example of this with Anonymous in which people have de-named themselves to let the best ideas work. It’s a meritocracy.”
We don’t have an office. People can organize at almost no cost. New tools give us the ability to by-pass governments, to make sure that we a utopic future.
[Because of some difficulties with the translation, and because I was thinking about how to reformulate my own remarks, I have done a terrible job capturing Andrea's comments. Sorry! ]
Just a few years ago, Arab countries were classified as enemies of the Internet. E.g., Tunisia didn’t give a visa to representatives of Internet freedom. But despite the censorship, the Internet became widespread. Even as the Internet was being subjected to more controls, the ballot movement and the Italian five star movement (started by a blogger) began. We are the country where a national newspaper was financed thanks to an online subscriptions. There are tv programs that are financed totally by the people. In this schizophrenic context, some antibodies were developed that now belong to our DNA as citizens and as readers.
Civil rights cannot be prioritized. They are interconnected. We need to defend these continuously. We are at the beginning of a great revolution. We are lagging behind other European countries, and society is divided into the digital and non-digital classes, but. We are at the beginning of a new change in which we can perhaps use what we’ve learned as citizens.
Q: I read when someone was describing freenet: If society generally has a positive attitude, then joining people will bring about something even beter. But if humanity is negative, then nothing better will emerge. So my idea is that that could be a way of understanding the Net, hoping it can raise the best of feelings.
Q: Slim, you told us how you used technology during the revolution. How will you use the technology to build the new Tunisia? Same tools?
A: [slim] I’m very disappointed because the Islamists won the election, but they were fair elections and the majority is probably very happy that the won. But we can probably change the mind of the Islamists because we can make opinions on the Internet. If you want to really use the Net for democracy, you have to have direct democracy: people voting on the issues themselves. But in a representative democracy, the Net is not usable like the media. It’s of course very important as a tool for databases and campaigning, but not for making people choose one candidate over another. It can be used to build a community of volunteers. It is powerful for opinion-making.
A: [rick] There was a scientific report from Sweden finding a generational gap in how we use the Web. Above 35-40, if you have a problem, you identify one or two people who can help you, and you contact only them and expect a response. This is how we’ve cooperated as social creatures since we emerged as species. People below this age work entirely differently. When they identify a problem, they broadcast it to their entire circle of friends and friends of friends They don’t know who will respond, but they know they will be helped. The Net has changed how we cooperated a species. It has flipped a turbo switch we didn’t know we had. There’s a famous quote in Sweden: When I am cooperating on the Net, I am literally not aware where my own thoughts end and others’ start. The single genius has ceased to exist. I think that’s a phenomenon worth defending.
A: [slim] This is known as the hive, the collective mind. On the last day of the revolution, people were screaming “Ben Ali get out!” [in French]. Journalists asked me who created this buzz word. I said no one or everyone. Overnight, all the FB profiles changed their photos to “Ben Ali get out!”
A: [slim] The Internet is closest thing to connecting our brains together.
A: [me] I understand why we talk about the hive mind, and it captures something true about the Net. But in a hive, all bees think the same thing. The real power of the Net comes when those connected minds are thinking differently, and are in disagreement. Also, for me one of the most interesting things is not the direct connection of minds, but the connection of minds through rhetorical forms, new ways of talking to one another and thinking together.
A: [slim] My blog is about the relationship between society and the technology, and how to build society out of technology. I wrote a blog post called Y”et another article about why google should buy twitter.” Google and Twitter are very different because in Gogle you have to ask for the info. On Twitter you say “I’m doing that”; it’s very close to having your thoughts being realized. If you’re in a bus station saying you’re waiting for a bus, you’ll probably get a tweet from a taxi driver. This is like having your ideas realized. You say your state and you get options. Also: Social networks are very basic infrastructure for humanity, so we have to have better technology, tech that is not bent to private companies and are not localized on a server; it should be distributed, because it’s really important infrastructure.
A: [luca] For IGF that’s very important.
Journalist and friend Luca de Biase wonders why the Italians have not risen up against the unabashed corruption of the Berlusconi years.
Italians are living an “after war”, a cultural war that devastated the country. Rebels have conquered the government and have destroyed peace, in Italy. Fear, urgencies, finances, are concentrating attention on the short term. Italians can rebel again. But most of all, they need perspective and peace.
How to get peace?
Luca suggests a direction more than an answer:
Italians, probably, don’t really need a rebellion. They need a shared vision based on facts and reality (not on ideology and reality shows): a deep cultural change, that helps them in understanding their shared project, that helps rebuild a perspective and that makes them look ahead with an empirically based hope.
Although Luca does not say so in this piece, I suspect he looks to the Internet as a tool for forging that shared vision and project.
(Luca has invited me to the Italian Internet Governance conference in Trento in November for a panel discussion. Perhaps part of our discussion can be whether the lack of an Italian Spring indicates a failure of the Internet as a political/cultural tool. After all, if we’re going to give some credit to the Net for its role in Arab Spring, then shouldn’t it get some of the blame? Or, should we wonder how much worse the Italian situation would be if there were no alternative at all to Berlusconi’s Orwellian control of the mass media?)
Tagged with: italy
Date: October 23rd, 2011 dw
My podcast interview of Yochai Benkler about his excellent new book, The Penguin and the Leviathan has been posted. Yochai makes brilliantly (of course) a case that shouldn’t need making, but that in fact does very much need to be made: that we are collaborative, social, cooperative creatures. Your unselfish genes will thoroughly enjoy this book.
And, Joseph Reagle has promulgated the following email about his excellent, insightful book that explores the subtleties of the social structures that enable Wikipedia to accomplish its goal of being a great encyclopedia:
I’m pleased to announce that the Web/CC edition of *Good Faith Collaboration* is now available. In addition to all of the book’s complete content, hypertextual goodness, and fixed errata, there is a new preface discussing some of the particulars of this edition.
Hanan Cohen has created a neat little world-expander, called Other News. Bookmark this link and click on it a few times. Each time it loads a random country’s version of Google News. Nice!
, too big to know
Tagged with: 2b2k
Date: September 12th, 2011 dw
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