Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The pitfalls of Internet

Recent books and events give us a lot of food for thought. Everything is moving at a tremendous speed. The obvious becomes dated or totally wrong. Internet is very far from a mature human activity but is it really human anymore ? Some examples.

A shattering book, just published in the US and already very commented by the media buzz: "The net delusion" from a young whiz kid, born in Belarus but teaching now in American universities : Evgueny Morozov.
Morozov knows a lot about authoritarian regimes. After all, when he was born, Soviet Union still existed. His point is that the Web is not the miraculous instrument that will promote democratic forces all over the world. Twitter and Facebook did not save from destruction the green movement in Iran in 2009. On the contrary, Facebook provides a lot of useful informations to the police states inquiring into their rebels lives. True, the book was written last year, before the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts which were orchestrated by Twitter. However, Morozov would probably remind his readers that history teaches us that a dictatorship collapses when its supporters, the army, the police, the government, stop fighting for it because they have lost their belief in the system. It is what happened in 1989. The end of the cold war was caused by the crisis of the socialist economy and the loss of faith of the communist parties leaders and it happened long before the discovery of the social networks. In a nutshell, Morozov states convincingly that internet is not the all powerful tool to build democracy in the rest of the world.
Another topic that puts in question the Web magic. Many internauts were deeply disturbed when they learnt that AOL was buying Huffington Post for 315 millions dollars while Twitter is valued at several billions. What these two services have in common? They are both thriving on free contributions brought by thousands of bloggers. Is it fair that the owners of these companies will make a fantastic amount of cash out of the unpaid work of numerous contributors? Once again, one has to face the persistant matter of the value of news. But what makes it worse is that social networks, including Facebook carry more and more pieces of news that they get for free and compete with the newspapers websites and pure players. From this point of view, the attempt of Murdoch to launch his paid electronic Daily on I-Pad must be closely watched. Will he make it? Is he to close to a print newspaper? We shall know soon.