Eric Schmidt: The Digital Disruption

Various cell phones displayed at a shop.Image via WikipediaA government that is in a zero sum battle for power with its citizens loses power when citizens get more and more digital, sure. But what if a government defines its "power" in terms of how much empowering it helps bring about for the citizens? Then the more the citizens grab the power digitally, more involved they become, the government in the process will have become more powerful, it will have become a better government, one that delivers more for less. I think we have to choose our words right here. An engaged, informed citizenry will lead to grassroots governance.

Instead of voting for or against the people in power once every two or four or six years, you would be voting daily. Every time you press that like button, you are voting. Call it micro voting, but whatever it is, I believe it is a good idea.

And so leadership will be a lot about getting the process right. There will have to be a lot of listening. And the listening will be collective. It is not like a president will be measured on how many tweets she reads a day. Society will collectively speak. Society will collectively listen.

If the trend were going in the other direction, we should have had cause for alarm. But I am largely positive. If democracy is about people ruling, then we are set for some great news. Obama 08 was grassroots electioneering, but we have not seen grassroots governing yet. Technology is not there yet. The collective listening tools are not there yet.

The fiction that this planet is many, many countries at some point will get called out on.

But it is quite hard to predict the exact shape of disruptive technologies 10 years out. Actually I don't believe it is possible. So I am leery of talking too visionary. The more specific you try to get in your predictions, the more ridiculous you look as years pass by.

Engineers do not think of software as common sense. But pretty much everybody thinks of politics as common sense. When it comes to politics, every other person is an armchair intellectual, every other person thinks they can wax eloquent and make sense. Some of that attitude has seeped into Eric Schmidt's writing. Every citizen is entitled to his or her views, but there are political equivalents of great software scientists.

But overall this is a thoroughly good piece of writing, quite panoramic. Schmidt comes across as a wise guy. People have started talking in terms of "Google's foreign policy."

Foreign Affairs: The Digital Disruption
consumers who have little loyalty and no patience. .... cell phones (five billion users) and the Internet (two billion) ..... the rise of the interconnected estate will create new opportunities for growth and development, as well as huge challenges to established ways of governing..... Democratic states must recognize that their citizens' use of technology may be a more effective vehicle to promote the values of freedom, equality, and human rights globally than government-led initiatives. The hardware and software created by private companies in free markets are proving more useful to citizens abroad than state-sponsored assistance or diplomacy. ..... The real action in the interconnected estate can be found in cramped offices in Cairo, the living rooms of private homes throughout Latin America, and on the streets of Tehran. ..... political "flash mobs" that shake repressive governments .... Iran and Syria, where government officials seeking unvarnished news of the world beyond their borders use so-called proxy servers and circumvention technology to access their own Facebook or e-mail accounts ..... The Iranian Revolution of 1979 .... one of the keys to the revolution was the ability of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to spread his message using a simple device: the cassette tape. ..... the "78-year-old holy man 
Ruhollah KhomeiniImage via Wikipediacamped in a Paris suburb [and] direct[ed] a revolution 2,600 miles away like a company commander assaulting a hill." ...... comparing the uncertain dial tone of the fax machine with the speed of today's handheld devices is like comparing a ship's compass to the power of global positioning systems ..... the involvement of diaspora communities in bringing change to their homelands has vastly increased ..... the 97 percent of Afghans who do not have bank accounts can save and access money with their cell phones through mobile money transfers ..... In Afghanistan -- and Iraq, too -- it is not uncommon for insurgents to use cell phones to detonate roadside bombs remotely. ..... a "nonpolar world" that is "dominated not by one or two or even several states but rather by dozens of actors possessing and exercising various kinds of power." .... governments, individuals, nongovernmental organizations, and private companies will balance one another's interests. ...... a strategy to ensure that the technology revolution extends, rather than destroys, the one-party state and its value system ...... The intersection of connection technologies and state power ..... Alexei Dymovsky, a police officer in southern Russia, was arrested after he posted a tell-all video on YouTube exposing corruption in Russia's police force. ..... a small group of hyperconnected states -- Finland, Israel, and Sweden ..... In Pakistan, for example, there were only 300,000 cell-phone users in 2000; in August 2010, that number was closer to 100 million. ....... In Kenya, for example, a company called Safaricom has developed a program to transfer money using cell phones, which has lowered the transaction costs for remittances, expanded access to bank accounts for underserved populations, and streamlined the microfinance process. ...... A growing number of activists work anonymously and part time; Web sites are replacing physical offices, with followers and members instead of paid staff; and local groups use free, open-source platforms instead of having to rely on foreign donors. At the same time, homegrown companies are filling gaps left by governments, offering language and job-skills training, financial services, health care, and the pricing of commodities. Today's activists are local and yet highly global: they import tools from abroad for their own purposes while exporting their own ideas. ...... the potential of quick and unexpecte
Image representing Eric Schmidt as depicted in...Image via CrunchBased mini-rebellions ...... In many cases, the only thing holding the opposition back is the lack of organizational and communications tools, which connection technologies threaten to provide cheaply and widely. ..... Iranian communications officials -- employing anonymous engineers and addresses -- created Web sites encouraging people to post pictures of the protests. They then used the sites to identify, track, and, in some cases, detain protesters. ..... In the interactive world of Web 2.0, the prime mission of some of the technology sector's fastest-growing corporations is to provide cross-border connections. Little wonder that the old-guard officials who dominate repressive regimes see these companies as little more than the arms dealers of the information age. ...... A Web site called Herdict, for example, collects data on blocked sites in real time, creating a public log of disruptions to the free flow of online information and enabling an unprecedented level of user-generated transparency. ..... the Global Network Initiative, an organization that brings together information technology companies, human rights groups, socially responsible investors, and academics in an effort to promote free expression online and protect privacy.
This 21st is not a nation state century. This is the Internet century. That's for sure. Tech companies stand to become powerful, but that power will be primarily the power of empowering individuals.

What are dumbphones today are going to be smartphones soon enough. The smartphones of today are smarter than the laptops of 10 years ago. This revolution I think will be "mobilized."

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