In April 2009, Evgeny Morozov wrote a blog post about antigovernment protesters' use of social networking tools in Moldova, wondering if the country was in the midst of a "Twitter revolution." The demonstrations soon dropped from the headlines, but a meme was born: When Iranians took to the streets—and the tweets—a few months later, Western pundits and journalists declared a "Twitter revolution"; Andrew Sullivan announced, "The Revolution Will Be Twittered." The phrase has since been applied to events from Guatemala to Uganda. Most recently, it's been used to describe the protests in Tunisia that led to the flight of its autocratic president.
Yet Morozov has become intensely skeptical of the concept he helped introduce. The 26-year-old Foreign Policy blogger and visiting scholar at Stanford University's Liberation Technology Program now rarely misses a chance to throw cold water on those who suggest we can tweet, friend, or text our way to a freer, more democratic world. In his new book, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, he presents a wide-ranging assault on the notion that the internet is an inherently liberating force. Unlike fellow cyber-skeptic Malcom Gladwell, Morozov doesn't completely dismiss online organizing. Rather, he advocates taking a less starry-eyed view of its potential: "The idea that the Internet favors the oppressed rather than the oppressor is marred by what I calll cyber-utopianism: a naïve belief in the emancipatory nature of online communication that rests on a stubborn refusal to admit its downside." (For a good example of this mindset, consider this Tunisia-inspired letter to the New York Times: "Anyone subject to political repression anywhere can now be an influential 'minister without portfolio,' able to organize and call the people into the streets to demand reform.")
One major downside of the internet revolution, according to Morozov, is that instead of fearing the internet, authoritarian regimes can learn to use it to their advantage: China has deployed a small army of users known as the 50-Cent Party to post pro-government comments on blogs and in chat rooms. The same sites and mobile apps favored by Iranian dissidents also have been used by the Ahmadinejad government to track them down. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has more than 1.1 million Twitter followers.
Morozov also argues that the internet's attractiveness as an organizing tool and as an entertainment medium can undermine serious political action. Beyond the risks of slacktivism, there's also the risk that the internet is breeding complacency by distracting the digital natives who might otherwise become cyber-activists. Morozov has seen this in his native Belarus, as well as in Russia, where young people enjoy "a very nice digital entertainment lifestyle." That, he quips, "does not necessarily turn them into the next Che Guevara."
Jane McGonigal says games can save the world. Is she on to something or just trying to score points?
Dave GilsonJan. 24, 2011 7:00 AM
Illustration: Marcos ChinIn February 2010, Jane McGonigal completed another level in her quest to become America's new guru of gaming. She delivered a talk at TED, the annual California conference that's an obligatory stop for anyone peddling a Big Idea, from Al Gore to Bill Gates to David Byrne. McGonigal's was that video games can fix the planet's toughest problems. It's a bold, appealing proposition: Game-addled kids, who spend an average of more than 10,000 hours fiddling with consoles and controllers before they turn 21, could wind up stopping climate change with their PlayStations!
It should come as no surprise that gamers, techies, and Silicon Valley types have been thrilled to have a much-maligned pastime elevated to an altruistic pursuit—and by an exuberant, un-geeky blonde, no less. In the year since McGonigal's TED talk, the 33-year-old director of game research and development at the Institute for the Future, a Palo Alto think tank, has been interviewed by Wired, had an onstage chat with fellow futurist and Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand, and told the New York Times that 2011 will be the year of "unconventional games with real-world impact." O, The Oprah Magazine, put McGonigal on its annual "Power List," suggesting that she deserves a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Barack Obama may be our first black president, but as Clarence Lusane writes in The Black History of the White House (City Lights), pop culture has long fantasized about African-American chief executives. We've compiled a slideshow of some fictional occupants of this esteemed office.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a pretty good public speaker, but what if he'd delivered his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech with the aid of Microsoft PowerPoint? William Easterly, an economics professor at New York University, has imagined just that, with predictably inarticulate results.