Why is it so hard for us to accept that the proliferation of digital technologies could—given the favorable political, economic, and social conditions—allow a group of highly motivated young people to mobilize their supporters and advertise their protests while at the same time enabling those in power—and, above all, the secret police—to get a better handle on tracking the movements of their opponents? Or why can’t we accept that, in the absence of those favorable political, economic, and social conditions, those in power are likely to exploit the same digital technologies for their own gain, be it to spread propaganda or surveillance or harassment or censorship or espionage? Or that there might be an important role that these digital technologies are playing in creating both favorable political, economic, and social conditions—by allowing access to more information, creating new jobs, weakening the role of dogmatic authority—for enabling democratization while at the same time creating political, economic, and social conditions—the weakening of mainstream political parties, the further marginalization of the disconnected lower classes, the ability to spread religious propaganda—that might further inhibit it? Why can’t we seem to hold all these multiple perspectives on the Internet in mind at the same time?
As virtually every one of our social activities is being digitized, it’s very arrogant of us to expect that, somehow, we would be able to figure out what the role of the Internet in all of this is.
The broader point I’m making here is that, as virtually every one of our social activities is being digitized, it’s very arrogant of us to expect that, somehow, we would be able to figure out what the role of the Internet in all of this is. Given how ubiquitous and cheap both digitization and connectivity are, what we call the Internet—and I here I don’t just mean computers, laptops, and routers but also smartphones and the Internet of Things and cheap sensors—is invading every single corner of our existence. This is not by any means a bad thing in itself. Properly designed and governed, this can actually be extremely emancipatory and be a healthy development for democracy. But what we need to come to grips with is that, once the Internet is everywhere, a question like “What are the political implications of the Internet?” loses much meaning, in part because it’s like asking “What are the political implications of everything for everything?” A giant supercomputer might answer this question but, alas, we don’t have it yet.
Read more in Evgeny Morozov’s article The Internet, Politics and the Politics of Internet Debate.