The Internet is a Brittle Weapon
The Daily Beast/Newsweek has just posted a short essay of mine on the disruptive nature of the Internet. It's a bit "Digital World 101," but they really wanted something straightforward. Still, I think it's a decent articulation of the basic idea of why the Internet is a useful tool for activism, but one with important vulnerabilities.
The notion of the Internet as a force of political and social revolution is not a new one. As far back as the early 1990s, in the early days of the World Wide Web, there were technologists and writers arguing forcefully that the Internet was destined to become the most important tool for cultural change in human history. They were (mostly) right, but not for the reasons they believed; in retrospect, strident manifestos such as John Perry Barlow’s 1996 Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace seem almost preciously naive about the nature of power and participation online. The ability of the Internet to alter the course of nations and economies does not come from being independent of the material world, but from being deeply enmeshed in it.
In fact, it turns out that the Internet is a rather brittle weapon of transformation.
The last sentence of the main paragraph excerpted above really makes the key point:
The ability of the Internet to alter the course of nations and economies does not come from being independent of the material world, but from being deeply enmeshed in it.
I'm surprised by how many Internet activists still don't quite get that.