Saturday, November 6, 2010

Digital Disruption: Mobile Technology and Civil Society according to Google's Schmidt and Cohen

This just in from one of my stellar students.
"The Digital Disruption: Connectivity and the Diffusion of Power"
By Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen

Foreign Affairs, November/December 2010

A video of the presentation is available here and audio here.

Summary: 
Increased connectivity allows for the spread of liberal, open values but also poses a number of dangers. To foster the free flow of information and challenge authoritarian regimes, democratic states will have to learn to create alliances with people and companies at the forefront of the information revolution.

Opening section:
The advent and power of connection technologies -- tools that connect people to vast amounts of information and to one another -- will make the twenty-first century all about surprises. Governments will be caught off-guard when large numbers of their citizens, armed with virtually nothing but cell phones, take part in mini-rebellions that challenge their authority. For the media, reporting will increasingly become a collaborative enterprise between traditional news organizations and the quickly growing number of citizen journalists. And technology companies will find themselves outsmarted by their competition and surprised by consumers who have little loyalty and no patience.

Today, more than 50 percent of the world's population has access to some combination of cell phones (five billion users) and the Internet (two billion). These people communicate within and across borders, forming virtual communities that empower citizens at the expense of governments. New intermediaries make it possible to develop and distribute content across old boundaries, lowering barriers to entry.

Whereas the traditional press is called the fourth estate, this space might be called the "interconnected estate" -- a place where any person with access to the Internet, regardless of living standard or nationality, is given a voice and the power to effect change. For the world's most powerful states, the rise of the interconnected estate will create new opportunities for growth and development, as well as huge challenges to established ways of governing. Connection technologies will carve out spaces for democracy as well as autocracy and empower individuals for both good and ill. States will vie to control the impact of technologies on their political and economic power.

ERIC SCHMIDT is Chair and CEO of Google. He is a Member of the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology and Chair of the New America Foundation.

JARED COHEN is Director of Google Ideas. He is an Adjunct Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of Children of Jihad and One Hundred Days of Silence: America and the Rwanda Genocide.

Go here for a quick review in Forbes of their presentation of the article at the Council on Foreign Relations this week. Here's a quick excerpt from the Forbes blog:

"Human Rights, Google and Mobiles"
Nov. 4 2010, by TIM FERGUSON

Schmidt sees us swamping the bad guys. Google CEO Eric Schmidt and one of his hotshot recruits spoke about "Digital Disruption" at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday night.  Just as in their Foreign Affairs quarterly article of the same title, the discussion by Schmidt and Jared Cohen straddled the line between the liberating and coercive uses of technology whose reach is enhanced daily by the mobile-device revolution.

Much of the exchange centered on how mobile-enhanced software power could be extended to the good guys in the world's most in-play countries (the "partly connected" societies) while being checked from misuse by tyrants and criminal gangs that bedevil so many vulnerable lives.

Cohen contended that a cellphone is more useful to a threatened dissident than the Geneva Conventions. And in lawless societies such as Somalia, booming telcos offer the best approximation of civil societies, by offering their wireless communities the means to interact and reestablish some forms of social order, to 'transcend tribal and clan dysfunction."

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