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Laptops and Tyrants
Alex Steffen, 31 Mar 04

The New Republic is increasingly irrelevant, and their latest cover story -- Why the Internet Won't Topple Tyranny is an excellent illustration why.

But rather than do my own heavy lifting here, I'll just turn it over to Jeff Jarvis, who pretty much nails it when he calls the piece "a load of naysaying, stick-in-the-sludge, cynical, behind-the-times, underreported, snotty crap. TNR foreign editor Joshua Kurlantzick argues that because the Internet has not yet toppled a dictatorship and because some dictatorships have lately become more dictatorial, the Internet has failed and it cannot change the world."

He goes on to write

"The story is shamefully ignorant of the medium and the inroads it has made. There isn't a mention of Iran, the situation I know best, where 100,000 weblogs are reporting news that can't be reported and scaring the mullahs and even making them join in.

"There isn't a sense that what makes it possible for the Internet to make inroads is its distributed structure: Yes, China can cut off a site here and a site there. But a thousand, then a million webloggers and expats and citizens can repeat information and news and opinions that have been forbidden. It takes time -- damnit -- but these seeds will grow. Yes, China has jailed some Internet writers but, as I heard from a sociologist from China a few weeks ago, Internet access is handled by pay-as-you-go cards and most users are, in the end, anonymous and can't be hunted down. He also said that China has failed at blocking Google and its caches of pages. (Ditto Iran.) Seeds will grow.

"There isn't even a sense of what the Internet can do in the United States and Europe.

Another shortcoming of the Internet is that it lends itself to individual rather than communal activities. It "is about people sitting in front of a terminal, barely interacting," says one Laotian researcher. The Web is less well-suited to fostering political discussion and debate because, unlike radio or even television, it does not generally bring people together in one house or one room.

"Well, tell that to Howard Dean or OK, so that's in a free nation where we do have a right to gather. But we've seen the Internet bring people and opinions together in Iran (and, again, I'll apologize that I'm not more up to date on other nations but Iran is, at least, a proof of concept). The writer is woefully ignorant about the basic and proven capabilities of the medium.

"The TNR story further ignores the power of the connected expat community. I just got a contact from someone who is trying to bring Turkmenistan expats into weblogs for human rights organizing and activism.

"There's some strange, jealous agenda coming out of TNR: an old, fuddy-duddy activist viewpoint that says this new-fangled Internet thang can't be as good as old-fashioned pamphleterring and armed insurrection.

"Would Che blog?"

There's more on his site, and I recommend checking it out. The Net is not a political panacea. Neither, though, should we let pseudo-contraversial establishment media outlets like TNR blind us from the very real possibilities for political transformation the Net can facilitate.
(from SmartMobs)

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