NNSquad - Network Neutrality Squad

NNSquad Home Page

NNSquad Mailing List Information


[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[ NNSquad ] How the Internet Can Save the World

                    How the Internet Can Save the World


Turkey's President Abdullah Gul and his wife were making the rounds of
Silicon Valley over recent days, visiting Stanford, Google, Apple,
Microsoft, and more.

A photo from the Google visit especially caught my attention. It
showed the President and Mrs. Gul with Google's Sergey Brin, in one of
the Google autonomous vehicles. It seems readily apparent that the
President was enjoying the experience ( http://j.mp/JF5A6d 
[Lauren's Blog] ).

I've been uncharacteristically at something of a loss for words as to
how to describe my sense of that photo, and the way that President Gul
documented his Northern California visit as would many other modern
tourists today -- via Twitter.

A fascination with hi-tech, not just self-driving cars and Internet
microblogging but across a very wide spectrum, tends to be worldwide,
and (with some notable exceptions) to cut across political, economic,
and even many religious barriers.

And therein resides a possible key to saving the world, if we can
prevent our own governments from getting in the way.

I can distinctly remember decades ago, the first time I communicated
with someone in another country over the Internet from UCLA --
actually back then on the ancestor Defense Department ARPANET -- via a
noisy mechanical ASR-33 Teletype. In the process of trying to debug a
network-related problem over a TALK link (what we'd call a "chat"
today) I found myself typing back and forth with a member of the
Norwegian Air Force. I entered my messages slowly (these devices were
limited to about 10 characters a second) on thick plastic keys
spinning innumerable gears inside the machine, and his replies printed
in a ragged line of all uppercase letters on the unwinding yellow

We talked about the network problems. We talked about the rooms we
were in. And the weather. And our pets.

And after we closed down the link, I stared at the paper for a bit,
the loud motor in the teletype still spinning away, and considered
what might happen to the world if such communications were commonplace
rather than exceptional, if we could communicate with people around
the planet without having to worry about relatively enormous
per-minute telephone charges and limited circuit capacities.

At the time, the broad availability of such networking technologies
appeared quite distant. But it was a thought I've long remembered.

Now of course, the modern Internet has banished the concept of
distance in terms of communications. On Google+, or Facebook, or
wherever, you may find yourself chatting (increasingly not only by
text, but with audio and video as well) with persons that in any other
context or earlier time you'd probably never have known or talked with
in any way.

This is the golden age of global communications, a time when ordinary
people almost anywhere in the world have or will likely soon gain the
capability of dealing directly with counterparts in other countries,
other cultures, with an array of different lifestyles and

The question is, how long will this freedom be permitted to exist?

When people have the easy and inexpensive means to communicate
directly, especially in informal settings and about the everyday
aspects of life, they usually discover that they have much more in
common than they perhaps expected. This seems true whether we're using
written communications, or audio and video links like Skype or Google+
Hangouts -- working our way ever closer toward a full "virtual
presence" that makes our common humanity impossible to ignore.

And frankly, I believe that such capabilities genuinely worry some
governments around the world, for whom maintaining a certain level of
"us vs. them" sensibilities is considered crucial to their control

I wouldn't assert that all governmental attempts to censor and
otherwise control the Internet are necessarily aimed at oppression or
making wars somehow more palatable -- or don't in some cases have at
least understandable rationales.

But ultimately, regardless of whether Internet restrictions are
described in terms of security concerns, religious matters, moral
convictions, or any of many other categories, the simple fact is that
overall, maximal communications between people around the world, while
not necessarily always favorable for any particular governments, is
very much in the best interests of the global community at large.

I spend much of my time considering the ways in which the wonders of
the Internet could be wrecked, or blocked, or subverted. But it's also
important that we consider the vast potential the Net holds for
improving the world in the most relevant and important of ways.

Not just in terms of science and research, though those are great. Not
just in regard to commerce and the global economy, though these are

But also in terms of the basic fact of fundamental human
communications, of being able to as freely and openly as possible
discuss with other mere mortals around the planet the nature of our
lives, hopes and dreams, our loves, and yes, our fears as well.

Personal communications capabilities of these sorts, enabled by
technology in general and the Internet in particular, have more
potential to save the world in the long run than do all the
governments on the globe.

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com): http://www.vortex.com/lauren 
Co-Founder: People For Internet Responsibility: http://www.pfir.org 
 - Data Wisdom Explorers League: http://www.dwel.org
 - Network Neutrality Squad: http://www.nnsquad.org 
 - Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance: http://www.gctip.org
 - PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com 
Member: ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
Google+: http://vortex.com/g+lauren / Twitter: http://vortex.com/t-lauren 
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800 / Skype: vortex.com
nnsquad mailing list