on 22 December 2011
Social studies scholar Evgeny Morozov may occasionally be cranky and stylistically conflicted, but his original arguments provide refreshing insights. He debunks nearly religious beliefs about the intrinsically positive power of the Internet and total information access. Morozov demonstrates how propagating this optimistic view of the web drowns out more subtle positions and keeps governmental and societal attention focused on less meaningful activities. getAbstract recommends this worthy polemic to those engaged in cyberculture, those trying to decipher cultural change, and those dedicated to understanding and promoting freer societies.
As the world, or at least Google and Steve Jobs' part of it move more towards cloud computing and an ever more reliant on the internet society, this book serves as a call to realise where we are going. I found this book deeply fascinating and I found myself repeatedly arguing with the author. I don't want to agree with his conclusions, but he makes a well-argued point. Most people I've talked about this book to seem either to be net fanatics (It's going to solve everything...), or net resistors (I just use it for...) few, myself included, have thought deeply about how the interweb has changed western society in the last last decade; and few of us have considered what happens when you're off the net.
Unlike me, the author has seen first hand both sides. Living in eastern europe and then in the USA, he has experienced fumbling government controls and the supposedly liberated west. He is able to make a judgement on the effect of social networks in creating and managing change and doesn't fall into the trap of thinking that what happens on the web is going to make huge changes in the real world. In short, he isn't taken in by the philosophy of the Matrix and knows that if the plug is pulled the internet disappears.
In reviewing historical technology, he shows how each major technology has come as a saviour of the world before settling down to it's useful role - and surely the telegraph was at least as revolutionary as any modern tech - but this is a useful review, especially if you haven't studied these past communication methods, and there is much that we can learn.
In the end the author is seduced by the open libertarian US model, and that may be a flaw in his argument. Maybe, and I'm not convinced and still arguing in my head, maybe the clumsy censorship of the chinese or eastern european states would be preferable to subtle siren songs of censorship and control present in the capitalist model.
What's for sure is that this book should be read by anyone with more than a superficial interest in the impact of the web on our culture and politics. You may not like it, it will galvanise your intellect and open new trains of thought.
on 7 September 2013
Morozov gives an excellent and thoughtful critique of much of the mainstream thinking around the internet and it's relationship to societal change. A good antidote to some of the web cheerleaders who make their living from TED conferences and exaggerating the effect the internet is having on the modern world.
on 6 January 2011
While the role of the internet as a political subject matter has garnered significant media outpourings of all sorts, there is a distinct lack of genuinely insightful and intellectually meaningful analysis. Not so with this book. You can immediately tell that Evgeny Morozov is one of the most knowledgeable and thought-provoking commentators on the web and its political dimensions. Everything about the web and how governments and civil society interact with it is questioned and analysed in both a rigorous and elegant way. The Net Delusion is a real pleasure and important book to read.
Evgeny Morozov's `The Net Delusion' is an informative and wide-ranging essay on the growth and increasing power of the internet as an agency of global change, with some less than optimistic conclusions. Taking as a start-point the way in which political-interest websites and blogs have been created by dissidents in an attempt to organise and focus opposition to less democratic regimes such as those in China, Iran and elsewhere, he broadens out his thesis to examine ways in which entrenched political interests have started to use the most successful spin-offs of the new technologies (facebook, twitter) to identify, keep track of and arrest dissenters; and that these developments of internet technologies now enable the exercise of a degree of social control far greater than was previously possible.
The author knows his subject, and utilises plentiful and relevant citations from the enormous academic bibliography listed in the index to support his argument. It is recognised that people the world over seek entertainment and frivolity from the net far more often than they engage in political or philosophical discourse; extrapolating from this data Morozov makes a convincing case that the new technologies may therefore be exploited as a more insidious agency of social control and management. He compares the 1948 totalitarian vision of Orwell's Stalinist surveillance society in `1984' with Huxley's earlier but far more seductive and ultimately more accurate vision of the future in `Brave New World' where the status quo is maintained by giving people what they want and keeping them happy on the farm. The work of Kern and Heinmuller (`Opium for the masses: how foreign media can stabilize authoritarian regimes') demonstrated the narcotizing function of unfettered access to entertainment media, in that youth in the old GDR who were able to see western TV broadcasts were overall found to be more satisfied and comfortable with the regime, whereas those in the eastern part of the state who were unable to view western TV were more politicized and critical of the regime (cited on p65). Control exercised through narcotizing entertainment is cheaper and easier than repression and brutality, so it's obvious which way a dictator determined to retain power and control would choose.
Morozov points out that the reason most western politicians and political commentators believe in the power of the net as a vehicle of emancipation by making information universally available, is because they have not given the matter much thought: "information does not flow in a vacuum, but in a political space already occupied" (p25). Due to its inherent benefits of mass information pooling and storage, the internet is empowering the secret police, censors and propaganda offices of authoritarian regimes to such a degree that the process of democratization is likely to become more difficult, rather than easier. Similarly, if the alternative to paternalistic authoritarianism is weak government (or worse, a free-for-all of ethnic factionalism and chaos) then people are likely to ultimately choose the certainties and clear boundaries defined by authoritarianism.
Overall this is a valuable and thoughtful essay by an informed writer. He often digresses from his central argument but such digressions (such as for example his analysis of the narcissism-promoting social networking sites and the shallowness with which members embrace `causes' so long as they don't have to actually do anything) are invariably enlightening and poignant. Morozov has a good, easy-to-read writing style laced with occasional dark humour, and his 320-page book is well worth reading as an engaging and radical perspective on the way the technology revolution may be leading us as a global society.
Sadly any idealistic young people who think that 'twitter', 'you tube,' and so on, will bring love and peace to the world are going to be disappointed. The internet is good for raising consciousness and awareness; but knowing is not doing. Easy to read and understand.Will the people who need to read this important book have time to read it? Will they not be twittering away in their delusional virtual world of unreality. Some Computer users believe that the dictators killing dissidents will listen to sense. They will; in order to get scary information. The internet can be a valuable propaganda tool for evil people. Deranged persons who want to destroy society, ( as their terrorism is completely immoral and random,) are doing their nefarious damnest to recruit and proselytise on the 'free,' internet. All you good people out there in reality land, let's hope that the ideas in the net delusion will be well publicized in every way possible.The great ideals of the young ( I have lost mine, being an ol' codger.) must be be tempered with reality.
The book mentions Greendam in China which is a censorship system to block and possibly catch dissidents. Sane computer users must be on their guard against insane governments manipulating them and this book points out a lot of the pitfalls.Certain Governments are NOW collecting very personal information about YOU! There may have been only 60 Twitter accounts in Iran during the riots there, but modern communications penetrate everywhere. Is there not a danger that stirring up protest via the internet can lead to actual dissidents being lulled into a false sense of support. They think the world is with them because of the world wide web, but when push comes to shove, they end up being tortured in a prison cell or shot on the streets, while the outside world looks on helpless. Some people believe that the Arab Spring came about due to the internet but somehow I doubt it.
'Think of this as the global brain of censorship.Greendam is a poor implementation of an extremely powerful-and dangerous -concept.' MOROZOV.
on 10 May 2011
The principle behind this book is that our perception of the Internet is wrong, that it is not a tool solely for the good which can bring down authoritarian governments quicker than you can say world-wide-web. Instead for any positive there is an equivalent negative, for example:
- demonstrators can communicate in mass via Twitter vs government can track where you are
- knowledge can be shared vs knowledge cannot be protected
- Internet help spreads free speech for democracy vs Internet helps control free speech for dictatorship
Interestingly, the book was written before the Egypt and Middle East uprisings of 2011 - applying his thoughts to these events provides a very interesting context, particularly the way the media appears to be claiming the revolutions were the work of Twitter and Facebook.
I must admit I did find myself skim reading some of the book as it was simply too heavy, but I wouldn't say that detracts from a very interesting and absorbing subject. The author, Evgeny Morozov, is a Belarus-born, US based expert on the political effect of the Internet and is a visting scholar at Stanford University in the US, and he puts this expertise to good use here.
I found a section which compared the adoption of the Internet to radio and the motor car which I found particularly interesting. In each case there has been genuine belief that these technology developments would radically alter the global political system, yet (with the Internet not yet proven to be the case) this is yet to happen.
Recommended but be prepared for a challenging read!
There is a commonly held view that the internet is, in general, a major driver for good, and that internet access can act as a vital catalyst to change in society.
Much of this book is concerned with Morozov's slightly contrarian view that this is not the case; he seems to see such a view as simplistic and, on balance, plain wrong. He makes a decent case for his view, citing a number of instances which demonstrate the increased power such technology affords to those wishing to avail themselves of it. The internet, along with other associated communications technology, allows much greater surveillance, and through that control, of populations. Morozov argues that this potential outweighs the positive effects of the technology. He points out that most people use the internet for trivial reasons, and not to increase freedoms, whether for personal, religious, national or any other altruistic reasons, but he doesn't give sufficient weight to the other side of that particular coin - governments, big business, security agencies, etc, all use the technology for trivial reasons far more than for clandestine or sinister reasons. Although it may seem that way sometimes, Big Brother is not here with us yet.
Co-incidentally, around the time this review was being written, events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and other Middle Eastern/North African states, not to mention the horrific catastrophes which have been visited upon Japan and the Japanese people, have really suggested strongly that Morozov's premise is fundamentally wrong. Modern communications systems, in particular the internet and mobile telephony, have had a huge role to play in all of these situations, mobilising public opinion and support, both at home and abroad, and letting the outside world see what authorities may be either unwilling or unable to show.
It appears that this book has come out at precisely the wrong time. Morozov should have envisaged a situation such as this, and moderated his arguments a little more carefully. It would be interesting to read an updated version in say, three to five years.
Morozov tells a tale of an anonymous post in China pointing out sloth and corruption that the authorities took seriously enough to track the citizen down - and reward him publicly for his citizenship. The message is clear we reward good citizens and we will track you down even when you think you are being anonymous. Which side of that equation or delusion as Morozov calls it you find yourself on will dictate your attitude to this book.
As one who has a long time interest in power and politics I think that of all the clichés that generate misunderstanding you have to go a long way to beat "Information is power". A handy if self serving little mantra and too often a lie. If you are aware of the bus bearing down on you as you cross the road then you maybe empowered to do something about your survival, but inaction does not effect the result in anyway that does not involve a great deal of pain - yet with sufficient resolve, motivation, time and motive effort the disaster may be avoided. The problem with the bus started when you didn't look down the road, the capability to perceive the problem is not the same as the capacity to act in a meaningful way. Change is affected by a combination of capability and capacity. The bus driver also has choices.
If the pedestrian is the individual citizen and the bus the state apparatus of a repressive - or maybe not so repressive but under pressure liberal regime - then we as onlookers or the passengers on the bus have to be the ones to make a difference. The world wide web, its social networks, blogs, web sites, emails, and the power and wisdom of the crowd have made a completely new dynamic, says its information libertarian supporters, but this new dynamic, with its promise of power by disapproval, pressure through opinion, maybe, probably, possibly make a difference. Who do you trust? How empowered does Twitter make you feel? When does that outpouring of emotion at an ex on Facebook, or sexting as a teenager, come back to ruin your life? Morozov makes a case about some very old problems in the light of some very new technologies and the massive speeding up of modern life the net and the web enable. The delusion is that it will all come out fine in the end. Mr Smith goes to Washington was fiction. Tunisia overthrew its dictatorship without Twitter; the Iranians, who by far the largest proportion Tweeted in Farsi during the recent troubles, (though English speaking commentators made much of the English Tweets) and the West seized upon a partial view at best and the Chinese, Iranians and others are quickly adapting to the connected world by turning it into a surveillance tool.
This is a fine book, though I by no means agree with all its analyses it is pacey and informative and thought provoking. I think it should be read and reacted to for there are important matters here that should not be overlooked in the race to champion or condemn those who against state's we generally disapprove of for not being like us.
on 31 January 2011
As the title of this review suggests, "The Net Delusion" is a breakdown of what exactly is all the fuss about 'internet revoultionism' focusing on recent examples such as the Iranian elections of 2009 to help put things into context.
This book is a very well balanced but might seem to some to be dispassionately detatched from the subject matter but this works in it's favour for me as it is laid out as a scientific analysis of the 'cyber-utopianism' delusion that seems to have become embedded in the mass conscienceness.
However, my only warning to readers is - have an expanded volucabuary. The author is a very intellgent and artiulate man whose subject material is such a large subject that he does his best to explain and discribe using the smallest word count that is possible, and as a result has prosented a hefty book which many will need a thesaurus to aid their way through the complex concepts that are being analysied.
This is a huge book, and has taken me (a normally fast reader) quiet some time to finish and digest the information. It's not something you can take on the train jounrey to work or on holiday, and is definately a serious academic reader's task. You have to have a serious interest and (in my opnion) a good chunk of understanding of the subject already.
Crossing sociaology, global political history, technology and even psychology this is no light read. However I found myself leaving it more enlightened and with a vastly expanded understanding of how and why the current method of cyber-activitism falls flat on his face and how things must change if we are ever to reach the fabled 'cuber-utopia' that so many believe the internet has given us.
Anyone with an honest and deep interest in the subjects I mentioned at the beginning of this summary will find this a fasinacting reference title.