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A Cosmic Battle: Technology for Liberation vs Technology for Control

  • Many electronic tools used by totalitarian regimes were created by democratic countries.
  • At the same time many thinkers speculated that electronic media would facilitate dictatorship, when in fact they are demolishing all dictatorships: radio and television destroyed communism, social media are destroying Arab fascists.
  • Media technology allows people to talk to each other, it fuels discontent and fosters mobilization.
  • The cyber-utopians of the 1990s were focused on Western society, but the cyberspace, instead, created utopia in the least technological societies on the planet.
  • The liberating effect of technology is stronger in totalitarian societies, where its benefits are bigger for ordinary people than for the state
  • The control effect of technology is stronger in free societies, where its benefits are bigger for ordinary people than for the state.
  • After the introduction of a new technology there is usually a brief interlude when (some) ordinary people are better than the government at using a new technology, whether Martin Luther with the printing press or the early Internet activists; and this may cause veritable revolutions.
  • For a while the public is better at appropriating a new technology than government is, but eventually government catches up because it has superior resources. Initially, a technology is more likely to be used to "liberate", while later it is more likely to be a tool to "control".
  • The tool of liberation becomes a tool of control.
  • Mass media that originally helped the public are later used by the establishment to create shared values that conform with the values of the establishment.
  • The more powerful the technology, the more liberating it can be; but also, later, the more controlling.
  • Liberty can indirectly reveal an powerful instrument of control.
  • Initially citizens are not accountable; then the government is not accountable; then citizens are made accountable by the government. It is much more difficult to make the government accountable.
  • We need to understand machines, not just design them.