I’ve been working in internet-related businesses for more than a decade, and mostly in e-commerce. When we started out, people thought that ecommerce was going to put Walmart out of business. But the real transformative power of the internet isn’t going to be in commerce; it’s going to be in social interaction. To put it bluntly, the internet will be the most important tool that democracy and self-determination has ever found.
Back in the 1930s we did have some social upheaval, and the US was at some risk of becoming socialist. But the primary communication medium of that day (radio) saved democracy in the US. It was also a spoke-and-hub style of communication…one speaker, many listeners. Now the internet allows us (worldwide) the ability to have true peer-to-peer conversation; everyone can talk with anyone.
I think that peer-to-peer conversation (facebook, twitter, etc.) was the turbocharger that Egypt needed to make the changes that they made. Something similar is happening in Bahrain, and probably soon in Saudi Arabia.
In those countries people will figure out how to use the internet as the means to their self-determination. They have no roadmap, no plethora of talking heads like we do, so they can invent something that actually works as they go along. It seems that the older generation use these new media as fluidly as the youth.
And they may invent a self-determination that improves on ours, while we wallow in our old hybrid model; we’re partly stuck in our old world of talking heads telling us what to think. Imagine telling your grandfather that he should be Twittering (“I’ll slappa you face!”). We’re still stuck listening to Beck and Coulter and Maddow and others, telling us what to think, where to look, what’s important, etc., rather than listening to each other, exchanging ideas, and learning from each other.
While the US may have invented the internet, other countries are going to use the internet to re-invent themselves. The internet is well on it’s way to revolutionizing democracy, but maybe just not ours. We’ll be stuck in our own hole for a long time, while the Egypts, Bahrains, Irans, and maybe even Chinas use the web to come up with entirely new models of governance and society.