The Internet--Not All It's Cracked Up to Be

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The "how technology changes us" debate is pretty well-worn. The notion that the Internet spreads knowledge and enhances democracy is a fully-established cliche, as is the idea that Twitter amplifies political agitation. Now the corresponding counter-arguments are being trotted out almost as automatically. The Internet, writer after writer argues, is not all it cracked up to be.

This week, Foreign Policy's Evgeny Morozov gave a point-by-point rebuttal to the idea that the Internet is a force for good, helping hold governments accountable and boosting political participation. On Wednesday, the Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby tackles the argument that Twitter can drive revolutions:

Twitter is a great vehicle for letting people know where the rally will be held on Thursday, but it can’t tell dissidents how to replace a corrupt dictatorship with stable democratic institutions. When those "chain-smoking intellectuals" got together in their cramped apartments in Moscow or Prague, Gedmin says, it was to do some serious thinking about why communist rule was wrong, how it could be overthrown, and how it could be replaced with something decent and durable. "That was intellectual and conceptual heavy lifting--not Internet chatter or quick blogging."

Valid though the points may be, it seems one can no longer say such arguments are swimming against the current. Many now agree that the substance technology conveys is more important than the technology itself. Or, as Jacoby says:

Democratic revolutions require such deliberation and philosophical nourishment--more than can be delivered in 140-character bites. The Internet is a medium like none the world has ever known. But the medium isn't the message. And in the struggle for liberty, the message matters most.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.