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Lessons from Egypt: We Need to Protect Our Connected Minds

Paul Budde

We need to protect the power that allows us to connect our collective intelligence, as described a few weeks ago in my blog on connected minds. I argued that in order to address some of our global challenges we have to start looking at a radically new way to address them.

The events in Egypt brought home the fact that if it comes to the crunch any government can disconnect us simply by bringing the Internet and other communications systems down at will, simply by a flick of a switch. And in future they will be able to do this selectively, with more sophisticated means, using new technologies and ICT investments for that purpose. As we have seen in China, western ICT companies are only too happy to develop technologies that can be used to such ends. At the same time of course these same ICT companies will also develop new technologies that can increase the power of people to connect.

However, the aim of some governments under threat is to disrupt the 'connected minds' environment. As we see in countries like Egypt and Tunisia (and not so long ago in Iran) people power is very much based on the ability to connect, and authoritarian regimes don't like that.

But let us not fool ourselves — any regime can do this. It is not inconceivable that some of today's democratic regimes could use the same undermining tactics if the people were becoming rebellious — due to, for instance, an escalating financial crisis, environmental disasters, (fear of) terrorism and so on.

America's reaction to Wikileaks is a clear warning sign.

More and more we see that people are seeking a different approach in relation to governance and policies and not just in countries with repressive regimes. Across the world vested political interests sometimes find these people-driven and more horizontally connected activities hard to accept, and this could lead them to toughen their position. Not just on a political level but also on an economic level, do we see glimpses of this in countries where the vertically operating vested economic interests (banks, telcos, media, health insurers, oil, tobacco) have very strong lobbying powers and are successfully influencing those with political power to prevent changes that will break down their silos and open up structures that would allow for more leaner, meaner and flatter developments. This does not just apply to people but also — as we recently reported - to the new companies that operate along these lines.

These lobbyists have built a system of complexity that is suffocating the possibility to make essential changes, innovations and reforms that are needed to manage the completely new environment in which we are now living.

Last year I wrote about the collapse of complexity. We need open networks to cut across the specialised silos that have been constructed over the last 50 years. These silos, also, have protected their own interests by making their operations extremely complicated.

At a certain stage we need to have the self-confidence to acknowledge that we have arrived at an evolutionary point where, while connectivity will be misused by some, its overall value for our society outweighs the risk.

It is therefore essential that we are able to connect our minds and it rests with all of us to ensure that we can continue to do so. We need to strongly protest against governments who are disconnecting their people, and who are actively undermining the combined intelligence that we have built up together. But equally we do need to urge governments to transform their societies and economies in order to tap into the enormous power of connected minds.

By Paul Budde, Managing Director of Paul Budde Communication Paul is also a contributor of the Paul Budde Communication blog located hereVisit Page
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But let us not fool ourselves... Richard Bennett  –  Feb 01, 2011 8:06 PM PDT

Oh, let's do, let's pretend that all nations and all governments have the same disregard for freedom of expression that Mubarak's Egypt has.

Any regime can cut off the electricity to a nation's border routers and take it off the Internet and/or disconnect it from the global telephone network (without fancy Western technology) but how many, in the entire history of trans-border telecommunications that started with the telegraph, have ever done so?

At least two or three Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Feb 02, 2011 7:55 AM PDT

I remember Nepal and Myanmar doing this.

watchful Paul Budde  –  Feb 01, 2011 11:42 PM PDT

I can't agree more Richard, but I think that what this is showing us is that comms is becoming a more and more important human right and that authoritarian governments can rather easily disconnect people. I think electricity doesn't have that same 'strategic' value in the eyes of these tyrants. The importance and value of comms has increased in modern times and what I am advocating is that we have a good look at this.

It is highly unlikely that in normal times democratic systems will take such draconian measures. But also increasingly we are living in one world wherever this happens it effects all of.

Paul

people power Paul Budde  –  Feb 02, 2011 2:33 PM PDT

I agree Suresh I think one of the first occurances happened in the Philippines - a decade or so ago - with the peaceful 'SMS revolution'. This was the first time that on a very large scale people were rallied behind a cause, using new comms innovations.

The Final Play for a Dying Regime Richard Bennett  –  Feb 02, 2011 2:38 PM PDT

The evidence from Egypt suggests that the network isn't at all essential to a popular uprising: The regime fell after taking the desperate measure of unhooking the nation from the Internet. It's probably the case that SMS and the general proliferation of cell phones is more important than Internet, and word of mouth is even more important than phones. Cutting off the networks was the final play for a dying regime.

the importance of comms Paul Budde  –  Feb 02, 2011 2:46 PM PDT

Interesting observation Richard this is all happening as we speak so any full analysis is difficult. Perhaps just before the actual events are happening that is when the most critical moment of these civil comms are critical. Of course having ongoing comms during the events would greatly assist but as you correctly mentioned once it has reached momentum they will have a life of their own. This than actually questions the value of cutting comms of after the event has started. I am more talking about Internet based services over mobile phones, rather than fixed PC based Internet. Interesting food for further thoughts.

Human Rights Richard Bennett  –  Feb 02, 2011 2:40 PM PDT

Declaring connectivity a human right doesn't amount to anything in the face of regimes that don't care about human rights in the first place.

During the Indian Emergency of 77-78, Indira Gandhi cut off the supply of newsprint to critical newspapers such as Indian Express. She was replaced in the next election anyway.

human rights Paul Budde  –  Feb 02, 2011 2:50 PM PDT

I see these developments as movements Richard. Finland might be the first country that declared it a human right, but that makes othesr think. True this has little effect on authoritarian regimes. But they will at least get the full brunt of criticism of those people/governments who have accepted the importance of comms. Hopefully that will put pressure on those regimes. I thought Obama missed an opportunity at the end of his speech to not ask Mubarak to restore comms.

Preaching to the Converted Richard Bennett  –  Feb 02, 2011 2:55 PM PDT

In the US, we call this "Preaching to the Converted". The only nations that might be willing to declare X a human right are those who would never dream of using X for political purposes in the first place.

seeds Paul Budde  –  Feb 02, 2011 3:07 PM PDT

True Richard be we are seeding :) Look at what is happening in Egypt regimes might want to stick to their good old days but people are moving on. I think that this is very encouraging.

We'll see Richard Bennett  –  Feb 02, 2011 3:30 PM PDT

There's no guarantee that the new regime in Egypt will be any better than the old one, so I'm reserving judgment for the moment. Having lived in North Africa as a child, it's pretty clear that things can always get worse there.

optemist Paul Budde  –  Feb 02, 2011 3:33 PM PDT

I am an optimist Richard we can only stand on the sidelines and cheer the good people on. Europe went through such a revolutionary period in 1848 and it took decades for those countries to become sort of democratic.

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