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.
Jared Cohen, co-author of The New Digital Age with Google’s Eric Schmidt, was recently asked a question about the degree to which technology will undermine autocratic regimes in the future. Cohen replied,
…Let’s take a country like Iran. 72 million people, roughly 25% of the population connected to the Internet. When everybody in Iran is connected - - everyone has a Gmail account, everyone has a social networking account, every one of them has various voice-over-IP services that they use… The population of Iran in the physical world may still be 72 million people, but in the virtual world it may look like half a billion people. And this presents a serious problem for the regime in Tehran: how do they account for 500 million voices online that are coming from the same 72 million people?
I’ve been trying to find a way to understand and explain some of the non-obvious ways in which it matters that our formerly only-bricks-and-mortar customers are online and connected. This helps.
Video and event information: Book talk with Google’s Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen [quote starts at 5:00]