A POPULAR MEDIA SPORT THESE DAYS IS TO PIT THE IDEAS OF CLAY SHIRKY, THE AUTHOR OF HERE COMES EVERYBODYAND COGNITIVE SURPLUS, AGAINST THE OBSERVATIONS OF EVGENY MOROZOV, WHO WROTE THE NET DELUSION.
I know who you mean, but I actually haven't read either one of them.
SIMPLY PUT, SHIRKY IS CAST AS A CYBER-UTOPIAN, AND MOROZOV IS PRESENTED AS A CYBER-CYNIC, OR — MORE GENEROUSLY — AS A POPULIST.
I think there is something a little bit uninteresting about such a debate. Is there any person who is self-described as a cyber-utopian, or is that just a word that is used?
IT'S A CONSTRUCT, A LABEL.
I suspect that it's a bit of a false choice. Maybe there are some people who think the Internet is so great that it's going to solve all of our problems and create a utopia. But I haven't met any of them or read their work.
AMONG . . .
Let me finish, because I'm very enthusiastic about the Internet. I think it's pretty great. I do think it is going to solve a lot of problems. But I think you can believe all of that without being blind to its obvious dangers. None of this is anything new. I mean, the printing press was a great tool, a great catalyst for all kinds of positive change, cultural and intellectual. It was absolutely indispensable; it was a sine qua non for the scientific revolution. Am I misusing the Latin?
NO. THE ABSOLUTE OR INDISPENSIBLE THING.
But without the printing press, we wouldn't know about Hitler's Mein Kampf. So it's a mixed thing. Any powerful technology of information can be used as much for evil as it can for good. It's so obvious, it's just so obvious. I don't think it's worth writing books about.
UNLIKE THE PRINTING PRESS, THERE IS EASY ACCESS TO THE INTERNET.
Yes, there is. The Internet, through a series of historical quirks, has been to date relatively free, especially in this country, from government control. It has even managed to retain a lot of its democratic tendencies in spite of a quite serious degree of economic concentration amongst the corporations that own a lot of the hardware that keeps it all functioning and viable. This, however, may not always be true. There are certainly pressures to get the government to put its hands on the levers of power. I hope our government restrains itself.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER GOVERNMENTS?
We can see in other countries more focused efforts to take or maintain control. Of course one thinks immediately of China, where they're really systematic and somewhat effective. Then I think one should also think of Egypt, where they've tried and failed to use the Internet in the service of the state.
HILLARY CLINTON HAS MADE INTERNET FREEDOM A PILLAR OF AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY.
And good for her. It's one of the reasons why she's a terrific secretary of state.
YOU OBVIOUSLY AGREE WITH CLINTON.
I think you can believe in Internet freedom without being utopian about it. Hillary Clinton, I would say, is pretty much a realist. I wasn't a supporter of hers when she ran for president, but I've never seen such a strong secretary of state.