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Democratization of voice has changed everything...why Jaron Lanier is wrong.

In a recent interview, computer scientist Jaron Lanier expresses his view that the social internet has not been a benefit to human society. In particular the open software movement upon which much of it is based is for him mostly a negative for human society.

I think he is missing a critical aspect of what is enabled by the internet and in general communication technologies as they have developed in human societies (predating even homo sapiens sapiens) that aspect is the democratization of an asserted "voice" as explained below.

His attack is more than just on web 2.0 , he has this view that there has been no beneficial social impact to the internet. He couldn't be more wrong, if it were not for the internet, for the hyper connected real time web of communications and the fora of discussion that are made available on the social networks that he called "packs" the following incidents of the last few years would have been worse:

1) Aung Suu Kyi the political prisoner and activist of the state of Myanmar (Burma) would be an unknown person who likely would have suffered and died in the prisons of the military junta leadership of that country, free to do as they wish without the external pressures placed on the regime via the internet.

2) Georgia and the Russian invasion of Abkashia. The Russians would not have stopped at Tblisi...they would have quietly taken over the entire country before the international disagreement would have even built to the crecendo that stopped their advance. Lanier totally doesn't understand the power of democratizing the ability to assert ones voice across the globe be that with digital text media, digital video or digital audio spread virally over the internet. Though it may be true that humans tend to naturally form packs, it is also true that we continue to form packs of familiarity and never before have we been able to embrace as a species our brothers and sisters in foreign lands through our solidarity with their plight..shared instantly via electronic communications. The internet is the pillar upon which this stands and social networks are the conveyor.

3) Sudan, yet another incident that would have been vastly different had the international community not descended on the rising attacks by Sudanese forces on the Darfur region. The eyes of the world stayed the hand of the leadership who could not apply the propaganda in conjunction with their barbarity to sufficiently maintain an artifice of "right" in the eyes of their "friends" and neighbors. We are social animals and now we have a global social interaction that is being expressed by individual countries...many ruled by ruthless men who's actions are actually being mollified by the fact that the world is watching. No other time in history was this possible...imagine Alexander, Gangis Kahn or Cesar Augustus under such international scrutiny...would they have been as ruthless had the world had it's eye on them, I so absolutely not.

4) Even though there was no internet at the time we know that even the Nazi's had a shame about what they were doing the Jews and others they deemed 'unfit' as they hid their programs of extermination from the world. Even though they felt they would rule the world they still hid their greatest crime...this is very telling of the group psychology of even the most evil regimes.

I can go on, Israel and it's invasion of Lebanon. Iran and the Green Revolution all conflicts significantly attenuated in the ferocity that would have resulted had the worlds eyes not been watching and talking, the internet and specifically real time social networks is the cause of that protection and Lanier doesn't see it. The myopia he is suffering from is not new, technological myopia has occurred during ever great technological advance, a more recent change that in my view was second only to the emergence of the internet in human history in it's scope and depth of change is the industrial revolution. One of the major consequences of that age was the mass production of machines of war. The invention of the repeating rifle, the machine gun, the cartridge based bullet and the automated methods of production for these devices..along with the invention of artillery put in the hands of still barbarian minded Europeans weapons of mass carnage which were unleashed upon one another in the many conflicts across the globe prosecuted in pursuit of nationalist and expansionist views of domination had by each nation. The barbarity of the first world war was not an indication of a greater evil on the part of the actors it was simply a result of a greater ability to prosecute that evil using the "efficient" weapons of war that had been developed in the 3 decades leading up to the great war. In the lead up many bloody experiments were conducted in then far flung regions of the world. The British practiced in South Africa on Zulu's and Boers, the German's engaged in their butchery on Herare...the Belgians worked their technology on human beings in the Congo and goes on and on.

The technology changed the way that war was waged and increased the scope of murder to the tens of millions that lost their lives in those early years. It was ironically the continued democratization of "voice" that served as a restriction on the barbarity that wars would inflict. A major example from the later half of the 20th century is the Vietnam conflict, the war was quietly being waged until massive media coverage began to turn the public view of just what was going on there, forcing significant and immediate changes by the government. It was so controlled by the opinion of the public that the effort was significantly marred with micro managed decisions near the later half of the conflict that made it very difficult for the soldiers. The internet (invented during the Vietnam conflict coincidentally) and later the web allowed the democratization of voice that today is significantly changing the willingness of groups far off regions of the world to engage in the barbarity that the previous age of unobserved war once enabled. This is a game changer for humanity not a mediocre shift as Lenier believes.


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