"They understood the Internet as a set of values"

From a book talk with Google's Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, May 2, 2013 https://youtu.be/z3Ynp2gjfQY

Walter Isaacson: But does technology eventually make democracy inevitable?

Jared Cohen: One of the observations that we actually came away with was from Myanmar. We’re in Myanmar about a little over a month ago. Less than one percent of the population has access to the Internet. Up until eighteen months ago it was one of the worst dictatorships in the entire world. Now it’s in some kind of transition, still very much speculative, about whether it’s a democratic transition.

What was interesting about Myanmar and perhaps something that shocked even us is even though less than one percent of the population has access to the Internet, everybody had heard of it.

And they understood the Internet as a set of values, as a concept, as an idea, even before they had experienced it as a user, or as a tool.

And their understanding of the internet was not based on a Chinese interpretation of the Internet, it was not based on an autocrat’s version of the internet, they understood it in terms of it its western values of the free flow of information and civil liberties.

And what that means to us is you have 57 percent of the world’s population living under some kind of an autocracy. What happens when their regimes try to create an autocratic internet that doesn’t correspond with their democratic understanding of what it should be? What does that clash look like?

We don't know the answer to that yet.

"The momentous arises only from the trivial"


A common tactic in discussions about the Internet as a free-speech medium is to discount Internet discourse as inherently trivial. Who cares about blurry kitten pictures, illiterate YouTube trolling, and Facebook posts about what your toddler said on the way to day care?

…The usual rebuttal is to point out all the “worthy” ways that we communicate online: the scholarly discussions, the terminally ill comforting one another, the distance education that lifts poor and excluded people out of their limited straits, the dissidents who post videos of secret police murdering street protesters.

All that stuff is important, but when it comes to interpersonal communications, trivial should be enough.

The reason nearly everything we put on the Internet seems “trivial” is because, seen in isolation, nearly everything we do and say is trivial. There is nothing of particular moment in the conversations I have with my wife over the breakfast table. There is nothing earthshaking in the stories I tell my daughter when we walk to daycare in the morning.

Taken together, these “meaningless” interactions make up nearly the whole of our lives. They are the invisible threads that bind us to our friends and families. when I am away from my family, it’s these moments I miss. Our social intercourse is built on subtext as much as it is on text - - when you ask your wife how she slept last night, you aren’t really interested in her sleep. You’re interested in her knowing that you care about her. When you ask after a friend’s kid, you don’t really care about her potty-training progress - - you and your friend are reinforcing your bond of mutual care.

If that’s not enough reason to defend the trivial, consider this: the momentous arises only from the trivial. When we rally around a friend with cancer, or celebrate the extraordinary achievements of a friend who does well, or commiserate over the death of a loved one, we do so only because we have an underlying layer of trivial interaction that makes our connection to these people meaningful…

The copyright wars are about all the things we care about on the Internet, and increasingly that encompasses just about everything in our lives.

From Cory Doctorow, Information Doesn’t Want to be Free

Only with the Internet can a peasant I have never met hear my voice and I can learn what’s on his mind. A fairy tale has come true.
Ai Weiwei, from The Bold and the Beautiful, Global Times, November 26, 2007.


After first learning how to type, Ai Weiwei soon discovered the benefits of blogging, spending more than 10 hours a day uploading pictures, posting interviews with other modern artists and making comments on the latest hot public affairs.

"Expressing oneself is like a drug," he said. "I'm so addicted to it."

Whether or not a person can become a free individual totally depends on whether that person can obtain information independently and whether he has the opportunity to express his own voice, according to Ai.

This channel of communication did not exist in the past. Most people never made themselves heard from cradle to grave.

"Only with the Internet can a peasant I have never met hear my voice and I can learn what's on his mind," he said. "A fairy tale has come true."