The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World. by Evgeny Morozov Paperback – 2011
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Language:Chinese.Paperback. Pub Date: 2012-1-1 Pages: 408 Publisher: HarperCollins UK Does free information mean free people At the start of thetwenty-first century we were promised that the internet wouldliberate the world We could come together as never before. andfrom. Irans twitter revolution to Facebook activism. technological innovation would spread democracy to oppressedpeoples everywhere. We couldnt have been more wrong. In The NetDelusion Evgeny Morozov destroys this myth. arguing that internetfreedom is an illusion. and that technology has failed to helpprotect peoples rights. Not . only that - in many cases the internetis actually helping authoritarian regimes From China to Russia toIran. oppressive governments are using cyberspace to stifledissent: planting clandestine propaganda. employing sophisticateddigital censorship and using online surveillance We are all ...
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I particularly appreciated the view from the other side - of the ocean, of the rose-colored glasses, of the political spectrum. For example, Morosov says that as other countries develop their own social networking and search services (if only to keep track of their own potentially troublesome citizens), the Googles and Facebooks the US offers are being seen more and more as digital versions of Halliburton and Exxon. That's a perspective that should be shaking things up at Google, which portrays itself as the good guys from every conceivable angle.
Morosov wraps it up with a call for perspective - historical perspective. We will not change human nature with the internet, because nothing ever has, and the internet is just another technology that will fail to make critical changes - like telegraph, telephone, radio, and TV. And without knowing the past and the present, we have no business making naive prognostications about Twitter saving Iran - which clearly is not happening - or China suddenly rising up because of Amazon's department store on the net. It's a cold shower of important perspective. It needed to be said, and I can't imagine it being better said than it is in The Net Delusion
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Morozov clearly relishes his skunk at the garden party role, missing few opportunities to belittle those who subscribe to such theories. If you're one of those who tinted your Twitter avatar green as an expression of solidarity with Iranian "Green Movement" dissidents, Morozov's view is that, at best, you're wasting your time and, at worst, you're aiding and abetting tyrants by engaging in a form of "slacktivism" that has little hope of advancing real regime change. The portrait he paints of technology and democracy is a dismal one in which cyber-utopian ideals of information as liberator are not just rejected but inverted. He regards such "cyber-utopian" dreams as counter-productive, even dangerous, to the advance of democracy and human freedom.
Much of the scorn he heaps on the cyber-utopians is well-deserved, although I think there are far fewer of them around than Morozov imagines. Nonetheless, there certainly is a bit too much Pollyanna-ish hyper-optimism at play in debates about the Net's role in advancing liberation of those peoples who are being subjected to tyrannical rule across the planet.
But Morozov simply doesn't know when to quit. His relentless and highly repetitive critique goes well overboard. We can all agree that technology is just one of many tools that can be harnessed to keep the power of the State in check or advance important civic / charitable causes; other factors and forces play an even more important role in promoting democracy and, in particular, ending tyranny. Yet, in his zeal to counter those who have placed too great an emphasis on the role of information technology, Morozov himself has gone too far in the opposite extreme in The Net Delusion by suggesting that technology's role in transforming States or politics is either mostly irrelevant or even, at times, counter-productive.
The more profound problem with Morozov's thesis is that, if he is correct that the Net poses such risks, or undermines the cause of democracy-promotion, isn't the logical recommendation that flows from it technology control or entertainment repression? He never really makes it clear how far he'd go to put the information genie back in the bottle since he simply refuses to be nailed down on specifics int he book. But his tone throughout the book -- speaking of the Net as "a great danger," and "a threat" with many "negative side effects" -- seems to suggest that some form of technological control or information repression may be necessary.
Morozov is on somewhat stronger footing in highlighting the paradoxical danger of voluntary information exposure in an age of ubiquitous digital connectivity and communications. But let's say it is true that social networking tools and other digital technologies which allow greater online personalization and socialization also potentially facilitate increased government surveillance by the State. What are we to do about that? Again, he doesn't really say.
He also scores some points for rightly pointing to the hypocrisy at play in the United States today -- by both government and corporations --" when it comes to the promotion of Net freedom globally. American leaders in both government and business need to better align their actions with their rhetoric when it comes to the interaction of government and technology. Too often, both groups are guilty of talking a big game about the Internet and freedom, only to later take steps to undermine that cause. But, strangely, he continues on to suggest that we should simply get used to the increasing politicization of the Net, even though it's unclear how that would help his cause.
To summarize, Morozov is quite right about the excessive euphoria currently surrounding the relationship of the Net to politics and regime change, but I think he's gone a bit overboard in The Net Delusion.
[My complete review of Morozov's "Net Delusion" can be found on the Technology Liberation Front Blog]
Morozov's starting point is the belief, promoted by everyone from world leaders to prominent bloggers, that the Internet is an emancipatory agent. Millions of dollars have been spent guided by the belief that if unfettered Internet access is made available globally, especially in repressive countries, democracy will prevail because citizens will be empowered to speak freely, coordinate politically, etc. Morozov convincingly argues that the truth is far more nuanced and difficult. Although much of the rhetoric and policy in this area comes from the belief that technology has been an essential tool in promoting individual freedom throughout history, most notably being arguments about samizdat's role in ending the Cold War, Morozov provides a very readable explanation of how this metaphorical thinking is misguided.
Instead, he argues that the Internet is subject to the power of the state and therefore is largely impotent as a mechanism for promoting democracy. He shows that throughout the world, the Internet is a) more likely to be used for entertainment purposes, b) censored in ways that are not easily surmountable, c) used a tool for propaganda by both governments and individuals that are not pro-West, and d) used for spying on dissidents.
The Net Delusion is thoroughly entertaining throughout, but that doesn't stop it from digging into some very serious subjects. The final chapters provide an excellent explanation of the history and philosophy of technology - tough subjects that are rarely considered, least of all in such an approachable manner. Finally, Morozov closes with what he calls a cyber-realist manifesto to guide thinking going forward. There are certainly bits to quibble with throughout the book, but overall, it is an excellent work and highly recommended.
The Net Delusion was a pleasure to read. Morosov is a skillful and funny narrator with a dark sense of humor (perhaps, the product of his Eastern European roots?) who is amazingly well-read; the book builds on fields as diverse as sociology, philosophy, anthropology, and history but is also rich in examples and anecdotes - it never gets boring. I found Morosov's insights into the Cold War roots of the current e-euphoria are particularly enlightening...
Morosov doesn't shy from controversy, providing one of the sharpest critiques of the US government's affair with "Internet freedom" to date (The Net Delusion makes a convincing case that in the long term it's likely to cause more harm than good to the broader democratic project). Silicon Valley gets plenty of bad rap too - for its complicity in enabling censorship in countries like China, in stealing user privacy, in facilitating surveillance by aurhotriaan governments...
The Net Delusion manages to pull off the impossible: to simultaneously appeal to geeks who read Wired and policy wonks who read Foreign Affairs - and to remain highly readable throughout. Solid five-stars.