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The False Prophecy of Hyperconnection (foreignaffairs.com)
49 points by walterbell 67 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments

There is a horrible story in the book “Googled” by Ken Auletta. There is this panel at Davos in 1998, and a couple of executives at Google are there, along a few pseudo-intellectuals of the digerati like Mary Meeker and Esther Dyson. At the end of their speech where they talk about how blah blah amazing the world is going to be, the only one who stands up and says no this is bullshit, the web isn’t about serving the individual, and letting them be whatever or have whomever choosing what can happen to them, it’s about serving society, is the ambassador from IRAN. I felt sick the rest of the day about how right he was, above all these supposed experts, so long ago.

I looked it up and it’s page 331 in the paperback for the full story, or just look for the only page-mention of “Esther Dyson” in the index.

I think the point of this comment is that the only one with either the foresight or the courage to stand up to Google at the time, and to take a position that a lot of people in the US now have, was an Iranian government official. Because of so much bad history, bad relations, and bad portrayal of Iran this is ironic, and suggests either a deeper wisdom on their side, or even more likely, a better familiarity with tyranny. If anything the ambassador should have seen its vast surveillance potential, but still he spoke out against the company.

.. it also highlights the relative naivete - nay, ignorance - of many in the West for just how close we live to despotism, tyranny and corruption in our own sphere, and - more importantly - just how rapidly these failings can be exploited by institutions with nefarious intentions.

We in the West have got to stop it with the moral superiority/manifest destiny, and start taking a good look at what it is we're doing to make the future worse, not better. If Iran can point it out, we most certainly can see it for ourselves - but of course we have to get past the superiority hubris which disallows any honest discourse on the subject of how our 'superior' technological societies are actually enslaving us all, not making us better.

Case in point - so far in this thread, nobody has had the temerity to point out that Western hubris is the real enemy here.

World Economic Forum is in January. Google was founded in September of 1998. It is difficult to imagine it had executives that would be invited to WEF at that time and certainly nobody feared it yet. I am actually old enough to remember using it in early days and while it was great, it certainly was very much an underdog.

Interesting story otherwise.

It's not clear that Google or its representatives wwere present, that Iran was the only challenger, or that Auletta's point was social vs. ndividual benefit:

Not surprising, many governments are hostile to the idea of a free and open Web that Google advances, believing their national values--or the governing regime -- are threatened. I soured on attending the World Economic Forum in Davos several years ago because I found too many panels there to be insufferably polite and boring--designed to bestow backslaps on corporate and government attendees. But what is mind stretching about Davos, and different from most conferences, is that attendees come from all over the world and bring with them different sets of values and assumptions about the meaning of words. I remember a panel in the late nineties moderated by Esther Dyson, an early champion of the Internet. She opened by extolling the democratic values -- freedom, liberty, access to all information -- advanced by the Web. The former foreign minister of Denmark chimed in with his agreement, emphasizing that the Web gave individuals more freedom. He and Dyson thought they were taking the unassailable moral high ground.

For the next several minutes, they sat slack-jawed as Singapore's ambassador to the United States challenged them. He said his government licensed Internet use with the idea that the Web must serve society, not the individual. "By licensing you are asking for responsible use," he said. An Egyptian diplomat educated in America chimed his agreement. He favored regulating "human dignity" situations, such as expressions that might be construed as "racist." He urged the adoption of international standards to prevent freedom of speech from being too free. Astonished, Dyson and the former foreign minister challenged these ideas as threats to "liberal values."

"I am not a liberal," a member of the Iranian Parliament shot back, declaring that his government opposed the "pollution" of Western democratic values spread over the Web. "A nonliberal system does not equal intolerance," he said, explaining that his country favored "community" over "individual" values.

This exchange was a reminder that "common values" are not always common, and that Google, whose mission is to share and make the world's information accessible, will always have government bears to contend with.

It's perverse to me how so many western intellectuals, on both the right and left, will treat their own culture and the role of their own governments and institutions with reflexive hostility and suspicion, yet simultaneously take autocratic regimes' flimsy justifications for oppression at face value. Perhaps exemplified most strongly by the ongoing exculpation of Putin amongst certain circles, as if his leadership of a murderous and kleptocratic regime was somehow made insignificant or irrelevant merely by the fact that he also acts in opposition the domestic institutions that themselves criticise. It's "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" taken to its most absurd, horrible conclusion.

It's become increasingly clear that, for many western intellectuals, freedom of thought and expression are things they only value in the abstract, not in messy reality. Nobody ever said that these things must only act towards the unmitigated good of all individuals and the greater society. But faced with any negative consequences, of free speech, free association, free markets, technological development, or simply an increase in populist politics that conflicts with their liberal or neo-liberal beliefs, they react with panic, swiftly looking to the most ugly, repressive regimes on the planet, and praising their worst excesses as merely evidence of some wise exercise of power, saving their populaces from the mischief they might get into if trusted to talk amongst themselves.

That members of all ruling classes, even democratic ones, would be tempted to increase state power and restrict civil society, is not something that surprises me. That so many of an intellectual class born and raised in democratic societies, which granted them a historically unprecedented degree of freedom and security, would champion or at least tolerate those restrictions, simply because Facebook scares them, is utterly baffling.

I'm shifting my thinking on this in some very uncomfortable ways, but also taking a deep look at concepts of liberty, liberalism (and noting that not all societies are liberal -- Iran's delegate is refreshingly frank at least in that open admission), and the long and fascinating history of media itself.

Much of that is informed by the fact that media and expression in the West have been far less free and open than is commonly thought, and the institutions revered there quite often speak with forked tongues, or act with two faces.

Look up Orwell's "Politics and the English Language", or at John Stuart Mill's criticisms of the educational establishment (primary, secondary, and university) as organs of the establishment. I've been surveying various Chomsky lectures and interviews over the past few years, as well as his books and writings. Robert McChesney would be another critic. And neither of them represent the conservative right as Niall Ferguson does (I'm generally not inclined to agree with Ferguson, or much care for him, though he has a point here). Or Clay Shirky, who's also noted that the promise of bringing people closer together online ... seems to have fallen somewhat flat.

And that's before considering the various forms of censorship, surveillance, distraction, and manipulation that's been practiced now with the power, reach, and scale of the Internet.

I’m not sure the ambassador meant what you seem to imply.


A short overview of social network analysis, by Steve Borgatti of Boston College, http://www.analytictech.com/mb109/slides/networks.pdf (2004)

Borgatti has free software for SNA: http://www.analytictech.com/products.htm

The math/sociology is broadly applicable, from Palantir to Facebook to humanitarian programs, https://www.rescue.org/sites/default/files/document/1263/soc... (2016)

Theory intro: http://www.mjdenny.com/workshops/SN_Theory_I.pdf (2014)

This is an interesting article, I've thought about this before but never had the words or knowledge of network theory to express it correctly. Thanks.

Never forget the nightmare of broadcast "Hogan's Heroes" and "I Dream Of Genie." Imperfection looks good from here. Scale information insecurity will remain a real and costly problem. But 1-way broadcast funnels were structurally only problems. Graphs of us are mostly better.

Are... are you a bot?

Parent comment is expressing that a web of (sometimes? often?) bullshit is better than inescapable authority telling you how or what to think.

It's not a non sequitir it's just written in shorthand.

I'm not 100% sure I agree with the sentiment (choose your artisanally crafted, perfectly engineered filter bubble versus just media is crap) but it seems to me a valid opinion among the spectrum of possible opinions to have about this.

That web of bullshit still informs you what to think, and being bullshit, it's abusive. It has all the drawbacks of oppressive authority, without a clear oppressor to resist. That's even before it being a veritable playground for all sorts of people big and small behind curtains.

That's consensus narrative not subject to "event horizon" nature of the scheduled TV cat pointer. The business press is very different. There they schedule quarterly financial reports, industry metric measures and product roadmaps on schedules. They interrupt overtly ongoing daily grinds of industry. Popular press is more sensationalist.

The grip of consensus measures is not suffocating. You have to surf them with feature detection. Contests are staged and sometimes usefully to draw attention. But we have good Webs of real news around newer consensus narratives more powerful than ads or fake news. We even have Snopes where we doubts remain.

Life is not much of a debate. Contests and debates are most of the bullshit that walks. Programmatic operations around design realizations talks and walks.

I am a real person. I was presuming people read the article. I am 51 and caught the tail end of old TV and newsreel culture. People read more of far less but were mostly denied any access to contextual data. When I arrived in DC tons of people "front ran" releases of government data sets only available on tape. I had to go to Library of Congress to read paywalled academic papers. Many aspects of modern Net lives are far superior and more efficient. Social ennui and deception were alive and well long before the Net. I studied philosophy of language so these considerations are my Petri dishes of endless fascination. I am not a bot. I can answer real questions just fine.

I concur with your point, which I think is this: we've always had despotism and tyranny at the door - its just that pre-Web, the door had a small group of guards that would grant entrance only on condition of servitude. Now, we have many doors - but they all lead to the same place as before: servitude. The tyranny of choice.

FWIW, the prizes closer to the top are neurotic sons and daughters of legacy post-Colonial industrial screw ups around constant crises manufactured on high. I enjoy "high culture" locally fed city living, but white flight we inherited relegates that to "society luxury" or even "tourist" status in most cities. Receptive folks who like our subsidized outdoors, cars, TV, booze and factory food seem happiest here. I can't change that.

"Servitude" for good operations in good ecosystems with good outcomes is better than fine. The "in charge" positional goods are rare by definition. But rot at our tops and even collusion in industrial felonies (Enron? Wells Fargo?...) is mostly preordained by an accidental empire in decline.

The Santa Fe Institute folks narrate our history and recent dog-eat-dog challenges pretty credibly at different comparative and resource accounting resolutions. Fixing our very specific post-WW2 population Boom and short lived apartheid empire is not possible by grand gesture. Culture, know how, will, patience and trust do not grow on trees. Even trees grow slowly. Interesting times to be a human and learn how we got here.

This most certainly looks like "bot-nonsense".

Paywall. Anyone have link to full article?

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