The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom Hardcover – Jan 4 2011
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“Evgeny Morozov is wonderfully knowledgeable about the Internet—he seems to have studied every use of it, or every political use, in every country in the world (and to have read all the posts). And he is wonderfully sophisticated and tough-minded about politics. This is a rare combination, and it makes for a powerful argument against the latest versions of technological romanticism. His book should be required reading for every political activist who hopes to change the world on the Internet.”
“Net Delusion is a brilliant book and a great read. Politicians and pundits have hailed the Internet as a revolutionary force that will empower the masses and consign authoritarian governments to the ash-heap of history, but Morozov explains why such naïve hopes are sadly misplaced. With a keen eye for detail and a probing, skeptical intelligence, he shows that the Web is as likely to distract as to empower, and that both dictators and dissidents can exploit its novel features. If you thought that Facebook, Twitter, and the World Wide Web would trigger a new wave of democratic transformations, read this book and think again.”
“In his debut, Foreign Policy contributing editor Morozov pulls the Internet into sharp focus, exposing the limits of its inner logic, its reckless misuse and the dangerous myopia of its champions. A serious consideration of the online world that sparkles with charm and wit.”
“the resulting book is not just unfailingly readable: it is also a provocative, enlightening and welcome riposte to the cyber-utopian worldview.”
“This book is a passionate and heavily researched account of the case against the cyber-utopians.”
Internet freedom", in short, is a valiant sword with a number of blades, existing in several dimensions simultaneously. As we go down the rabbit-hole of WikiLeaks, Morozov's humane and rational lantern will help us land without breaking our legs.”
Morozov's ‘The Net Delusion’ should be read by cockeyed optimists and pessimists alike. It's as important today as McLuhan's books ("The Gutenberg Galaxy," "Understanding Media," "The Medium is the Massage," etc.) were in the 1950s through the 1970s.”
“The Net Delusion, argues that Westerners get carried away by the potential of the Internet to democratize societies, failing to appreciate that dictators can also use the Web to buttress their regimes. A fair point.”
“Morozov has produced an invaluable book. Copies should be smuggled to every would-be Twitter revolutionary, and to their clueless groupies in the Western democracies.”
“As Evgeny Morozov demonstrates in ‘The Net Delusion,’ his brilliant and courageous book, the Internet’s contradictions and confusions are just becoming visible through the fading mist of Internet euphoria. Morozov is interested in the internet’s political ramifications. ‘What if the liberating potential of the Internet also contains the seeds of depoliticization and thus dedemocratization?’ he asks. The Net delusion of his title is just that. Contrary to the ‘cyberutopians,’ as he calls them, who consider the Internet a powerful tool of political emancipation, Morozov convincingly argues that, in freedom’s name, the Internet more often than not constricts or even abolishes freedom.”
About the Author
Evgeny Morozov is a contributing editor to Foreign Policy and Boston Review and a Schwartz Fellow at the New American Foundation. Morozov is currently also a visiting scholar at Stanford University. He was previously a Yahoo! Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University and a fellow at the Open Society Institute in New York, where he remains on the board of the Information Program. Morozov’s writings have appeared in the Economist, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe, Slate, Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the San Francisco Chronicle, Prospect, Dissent, and many other publications.
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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.
Morozov cites many examples of technology being heralded as a utopia-generator and freedom-enhancer: the telegraph, radio, TV, etc. only to have the dream busted each time.
The Internet may have brought people together, but it hasn’t changed human nature. So it is with the Internet, theft becomes identity theft, crime becomes cyber-crime, child porn becomes child porn file sharing, chain letters become spam and drug dealing in the alley moves to online markets.
People are finding each other, no question about it. With remarkable ease, terrorists, racists and anti-vaccers and science deniers can hook up, seal off their world from the slightest mote of logic and blast their views across the Web to locate fertile ground in other weak minds.
Much of the first portion of the book exhaustively illustrates that the Iranian “Twitter Revolution” of 2009 was mostly hype, an attractive news story that was almost completely unfounded. Even if social media tools such as mobile phones, Facebook and Twitter enable dissidents to better organize, those same tools are easily utilized by authoritarian governments against them. The cost of organizing online is a visibility that makes identification and tracking of activists simple. Use the web to find the names of the activists, use cell phone data to find out where they are, then round them up for arrest.
Worse still, there is evidence suggesting the Internet is depoliticizing people with its limitless entertainment options. Dictators are finding there is less dissent in their population the more porn and YouTube they get access to. For many authoritarian governments it simply doesn’t make sense to censor. Give them porn and action movies and suddenly there are less people in the street holding signs.
This well-written study convincingly argues the praise and potential heaped upon the Internet is premature and the impact on democracies not yet fully understood. It also spotlights the fact that Silicon Valley has a vested interest in growing the importance of all things digital since they are businesses, not humanitarian enterprises. Letting the digerati worm their way into political decision-making is extremely ill advised.
If we are a people hypnotized by gadgetry and distraction, Morozov provides the industrial-strength finger snap needed to wake us from the Web narcotic.
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