CNN—February 11, 2011…“If you want to liberate a society, just give them the Internet,” Ghonim said Friday. Wael Ghonim was identified as a Google marketing executive.
I’m not sure I buy into the suggestion that Facebook (via the Internet) brought down the Egyptian government. Nor am I necessarily an advocate of “liberating” societies. If the Internet is truly an instrument of liberation then perhaps we should fear it. In reality it is no more a tool of liberation than the guillotine was in 18th century France. Society has always found ways to affect change throughout history. Revolutions, coups, overthrown governments, social and political upheavals are commemorated throughout human existence. Thomas Jefferson advocated regular reassessment and change: “Every generation needs a new revolution”. So I think it is a little arrogant to assume that Internet social media tools caused the downfall of a corrupt government.
Traditional “old school” means of publishing have built in checks and balances. Scientific publications are peer reviewed, publishing houses are reasonably careful to print what appears to be the truth. Newspapers are careful to validate and find alternate sources for published news stories. Colleges and universities have self-governing procedures to assure that professors and instructors have the proper training and foundation of knowledge before they inflict themselves on students. The Internet has changed all that. Anyone can declare themselves an expert and disseminate whatever self serving, inaccurate information they choose to. The Internet originally held the promise of becoming a modern Library of Alexandria. Unfortunately it is rapidly evolving into a Library of Babel with the possibility, but not the expectation, of veracity.
There is a great deal of concern about Internet privacy. We tremble before the notion of a national Internet ID which the Obama administration is discussing, yet we willingly provide personal and private information to organizations that use that information to make a profit. I would prefer that my personal information remain private but I accept the fact that my banks, my employers, my physicians, and my insurance providers keep some data on me. I even understand the need for the government to maintain certain information although I would prefer they didn’t. What I don’t abide is providing Mark Zuckerberg and his cohorts with that sort of data. I cannot determine any useful value I would accrue by providing it. I am sure it’s all available elsewhere, but I am not going to compile my vital statistics and hand them over for free to an organization that is just going to resell that information.
That is all very interesting but is also so commonplace that we take it for granted. What I see as a real paradigm shift drive by this model is that we now have completely blurred the lines between work, pleasure, and social media. We use the same devices to accomplish all these things. And we access those devices 24 x 7. I think I understand the difference between work time and play time, but I wonder if current and future generations will know that difference. I wonder if it even matters.
North America has already made the transition from a production economy to a service economy. A nation of information workers and service workers may not require a hard demarcation between work and play. If a worker is assembling a jet engine (which we still do very well in North America) that line is critical. If a worker is writing code for a time management system the distinction may not be all that relevant.