Army of Davids

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Book: An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths. Glenn Reynolds. Thomas Nelson, 2006.



From the author, Glenn Reynolds:

"looks at how technology is empowering individuals to do things that once were the province of nation-states and big corporations. But though I do think the Internet has empowered individuals in new ways, I don't think that makes nation-states obsolete, or impotent. Cyberspace may declare independence from government, but the actual people who are using cyberspace are embedded in the real world and subject to real-world constraints and coercion. And these constraints do work: Napster is gone, other file-sharing systems have been weakened by the movie and record companies and their ceaseless lawsuits, and Chinese cyberdissidents now languish in jail—sometimes, as you note, with the active connivance of Western companies like Yahoo! that once stood for Internet freedom.

But—to return to the theme of my own book—that hardly means that the Internet and other technological tools haven't empowered their users. Napoleon famously said that the tools belong to the man who can use them, and that's the story here, too: Tools, by themselves, don't provide freedom. They have to be used, by people. And, to emphasize where our approaches diverge, the point of my own book is that people are using them, to considerable effect.

Although the communications revolution hasn't brought about an anarcho-libertarian global paradise, as once envisioned, that doesn't mean that it hasn't done any good. Chinese bloggers—and text-messagers—managed to end-run the Chinese government's information quarantine regarding SARS. Bloggers played a major role in publicizing and coordinating the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon. (They're trying to repeat that process in Belarus as I write this. They may fail, but they're certainly getting more attention than they could have managed in the pre-Internet era.)

Certainly, governments and companies constrain some forms of Internet activity. But we shouldn't overstate their impact, and we shouldn't forget that Internet activity is also constraining governments, even in repressive countries. In spite of China's filtering and censorship, new communications tools have produced a considerable increase in accountability on the part of powerful institutions like the army, which was formerly not accountable at all. A recent report at StrategyPage points out that Chinese citizens are now quick to protest on the Internet and via cell phones when the army seizes their land without cause or creates environmental problems; this ability to make noise has caused the government to impose new rules limiting what the army can do. That represents a significant change. This sort of empowerment is likely to encourage more assertiveness on the part of the citizenry in other areas. It may not be democracy, at least not yet, but it is an improvement." (