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Technologies of Freedom and the Situation in Egypt

The events in Egypt reminded me of Prof. Ithiel de Sola Pool’s 1983 book Technologies of Freedom. While much of the book focused on the need for 1st Amendment rights for arising new media, the underlying theme is that new communications technologies can really be the technologies of freedom. The back cover has a quote from Daniel Schorr:

“Technologies of Freedom has enabled me to grasp for the first time the full impact of communications tools on freedom of expression.”

Thus it should not be surprising that the incumbent regime in Egypt’s first response to demonstrators was to turn off Internet and mobile communications in their country (NYTimes coverage of shutdown). It is an approach doomed to failure.

On the last page of the book, Pool wrote,

Electronic media, as they are coming to be, are disperse in use and abundant in supply. They allow for more knowledge, easier access, and freer speech than were ever enjoyed before. They fit the free practices of print. The characteristics of media shape what is done with them, so one might anticipate that these technologies will overwhelm all attempts to control them

Pool died in 1984 and never saw widespread Internet use, Facebook, or Twitter. But he brilliantly anticipated today’s media.

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