Growing up in Belarus and then living in the US, Mr Morozov has had opportunities to view the Internet from 'both sides'. He has seen at first hand both authoritarian attempts at controlling the spread of the Internet and libertarian attempts at maintaining the Internet's growth throughout the world.
This experience has allowed him to develop some useful views. He contrasts attitudes to the Internet basically between 'cyber-utopians' and 'cyber-cons'. The former he defines as those who have:
'...a quasi-religious belief in the power of the Internet to do supernatural things, from eradicating illiteracy in Africa to organizing all of the world's information...Opening up closed societies and flushing them with democracy juice until they shed off their authoritarian skin is just one of the expectations placed on the Internet these days.' (P19)
On the other hand, there are the 'cyber-cons' (an on-line version of neo-conservatives) who still view the world from an essentially Cold War perspective. Thus, they are bound by cold-war metaphors. But, as he points out:
'Breaching a powerful firewall is in no way similar to the breaching of the Berlin Wall or the lifting of passport controls at Checkpoint Charlie...[T]he cyber-wall metaphor falsely suggests that once digital barriers are removed, new and completely different barriers won't spring up in their place' (P44-45)
Between these two extremes, which overlap and inform each other, he analyses the effects of Twitter, Facebook, mobile telephony and the growing belief that all dissidents have to do is set up a Facebook page and the revolution will miraculously occur. He points out, in some detail, just how false these beliefs are and clearly shows that authoritarian regimes are hardly likely to stand back and watch in horror, but are themselves active participants. In fact, organizing demonstrations and the like by mobile phone or Twitter can actually deliver the dissidents into the hands of the authorities.
As stated, China is not going to sit back and simply let lots of people create anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) blogs, web-sites and Facebook pages. They can mobilise their own supporters to create the same Internet facilities to actively support the regime (this is neatly confirmed in 'The Party
' by Richard McGregor). In many countries, this has been a growing phenomenon with or without active government support. The number of web-sites and blogs promoting Russian nationalism, for example, provide a significant counter to any 'democratising movement'.
Morozov makes some pointed historical comparisons - in the past, it was believed that the telegraph would bring about World Peace, then it was the aeroplane, next radio (remember the BBC's motto 'Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation'), then television. As we can see, none of these previous technologies appear to have enhanced the opportunities for greater international understanding, instead often bringing about a 'tribalism' as groups retreat from the huge volume of information into self-reinforcing cliques - an idea also explored by Jodi Dean in her book 'Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies
'. Think here of US talk radio and Fox News.
Morozov challenges the notion that all these disaffected people in authoritarian states are hungry for news from the 'outside', from the liberated West. He's right, of course. As he puts it in a chapter entitled 'Orwell's Favourite lolcat' the vast majority of people are far more interested in funny videos on YouTube and pornography.
He creates a further contrast between Orwellian
visions of the future - 'The Orwell-Huxley Sandwich Has Expired' (P75) and suggests that we are far closer to the Huxley end of this spectrum than the Orwellian. Personally, I'm not convinced. As he says himself, the trouble with metaphor is that it is easy to go from saying that something is 'like' something else to saying it is 'exactly like' and so, to my mind, what we have, what is developing, owes much to both Orwell and Huxley - from 'celeb TV' and 'lolcats' to ubiquitous CCTV and monitored mobile phones (or the two together, in the case of the News of the World).
This is a highly detailed examination of the Internet as it has developed over the last twenty years but, to be honest, it does get rather repetitive. The final chapter attempts to put forward some pointers and some suggestions for maintaining the openness of the Internet. But these are rather rushed and not given nearly as much detail as the exposition of the problems currently faced by the technology.
Still, it is very informative, if not particularly optimistic. Given developments since he wrote the book (the US government's continued attacks on WikiLeaks and, by extension, Twitter, the formation of Facebook groups such as the Gaza Youth Movement, where you can simply link to the page to show your (virtual) support) I think we are seeing the slow end of the 'Adam Smithian' free-range Internet and what develops to take it's place will not be so inspirational.