We are witnessing an extraordinary global upheaval, the outcome of which seems very uncertain at best. In my view, it is a populist reaction to globalization, and a dramatic shift in politics around the World, from economic issues to cultural issues. I see globalization as ultimately an inevitable evolution of human culture, but which by its very nature and the acceleration in the pace of change with the World Wide Web, is fomenting unrest and reaction. Marshall McLuhan, the great Canadian visionary correctly predicted the rise of the “global village” in the 1960’s. But neither McLuhan nor we foresaw the backlash against the Internet and efforts by China, Russia, Turkey and other countries to block free access to the Internet. The global economy also has essentially stagnated since the Global Financial Meltdown. This has been a warning of greater issues rising up around the World. Xenophobia, racism, gender issues, freedom of expression, environmentalism, and terrorism have displaced economics as the top political issues. How this all plays out in the “global village” is anyone’s guess.
It appears to me that the original vision and promise of the Internet, referred to by many as Digital Utopianism, is at severe risk of deteriorating into a “balkanized” World Wide Web.
National and political Internet barriers, censorship and ubiquitous surveillance seem to be the emerging new reality. Notable digital luminaries the likes of Vin Cerf and Bill Gates have been questioned on this point, and both have expressed no major concern about deterioration of the freedom of the Internet or with the original Utopian vision. The argument is that the World Wide Web cannot be effectively blocked or censored. As a long time Silicon Valley high tech executive, I understand this optimistic view, but the facts on the ground are now providing serious evidence that the Internet is under attack, and may not survive unless there is a significant shift in these new trends.
We are all now hearing and reading about Edward Snowden, who is now at the center of a global political firestorm, caused by Snowden’s decision to reveal the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program, and its increasing encroachment of personal privacy. Snowden’s revelations have now also entangled the UK’s GCHQ, the secret intelligence gathering arm of MI6 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire which has also been sharing similar snooping with the NSA. A former U.S. National Security Administration contractor, Snowden was actually employed by Booz Allen Hamilton, a global management consultancy firm. Snowden’s situation should give us all pause to consider the Brave New World we have entered with zettabytes (1 Million Terabytes) of Big Data, and the uses of it.
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