Internet use is growing at an extremely fast rate in the nations of the Caucuses and Central Asia, in some cases by a factor of ten over only a few years. The trend, illustrated by World Bank data and charted by writer Joshua Foust, could have serious implications for these societies, where popular opposition movements have struggled to organize without sufficient access to technology or to the outside world.
Wherever you fall on the question of how big a role the internet played in the popular uprisings reshaping the Arab world, for example, it's clear that the web -- news sites from the outside world, blogs by political activists, social media tools to organize popular movements -- can play a significant role in reshaping closed societies. In April 2010, Kyrgyzstan -- which saw its internet usage triple over the preceding few years -- sprang into popular revolt.
The nations of the Caucuses and Central Asia, some of the world's poorest and least open societies outside of Africa, have never been particularly connected to the rest of the modern world. They were closed under Soviet rule and remain less-than-free under the dictators and presidents-for-life that dot the region. There are many reasons this could change, but such rapidly growing internet use, and the inevitable growth in free dissent and political organization it will bring, would surely be a factor.
The outlier, as so often with Central Asia, is Turkmenistan. Long dominated by a (now deceased) ruler who called himself "Turkmenbashi," the Turkmen internet, like the Turkmen society, looks like it will remain unfree for the time being.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.