This medium brings more of it within reach of more people than any medium has before. (Pictured, the capital of Rwanda.)
When George W. Bush was in Africa this week reporters were astounded by the number of people there who supported Barack Obama, who seemed to know all about him.
And why not? Africa is filled with Internet cafes. Africans don't have to listen hopefully for a word from the BBC anymore. They can pick up The New York Times.
Recently I mentioned the idea that Obama should go to Kenya and try to sort out the growing crisis there. Turns out he's been there, via radio. He made a statement and took questions at the end of last month. This has not yet had an impact, as the struggle has morphed into a tribe-on-tribe war over land. But he was there, and could be again, at any time.
It's not just politics where this medium is making enormous change. It's in every facet of life. The turnaround in Rwanda is being driven as much by information as anything else. The use of sympathy to reach markets, and the opening of an online stock exchange, is enabling capital to reach all of East Africa. Trouble in Kenya can now quickly move capital to Rwanda and vice versa. Rapid capital flows can create a gigantic incentive to make peace.
When you have access to the Internet you have access to all of the Internet. Even the most pro-censorship regimes in the world allow access to scientific sites, and technology sites, and markets where goods are now available which never were before. The capability of the Internet to educate is now available everywhere, language barriers notwithstanding. You no longer go through intermediaries. You get it from the horse's mouth.
If you look at the Clustermap to the left of this site you'll get some idea of what I'm talking about. This is not a big site. It's a personal blog which has had fewer than 100,000 visitors since May. But there are readers coming here from India and Pakistan, from China and the Amazon, from Indonesia and the center of Algeria. Just one site, one fairly ordinary personal blog. Now multiply that impact by millions, by billions.
This is the real revolution of the 21st century, the truly unstoppable force. Governments cannot agree on what may be censored, and so nothing really can be. People in China who want to know what Falun Gong is still learn. The idiot judge who tried to shut down Wikileaks is learning the same thing.
But it's not at the edge of controversy where the real story lies. It's in non-controversial areas. It's in economic development, in the spread of technology, in education, in the creation of new markets, where the Internet's rise is really being felt. Even in Zimbabwe people can still rent someone's cell phone and make a call, make a connection to the world. Even in Nepal you can run WiFi to remote villages and connect the people there to the whole medium, at broadband speeds.
This is slowly having enormous effects:
- Values like tolerance and democracy are spreading to places which never knew them.
- Remote villages are being brought into world markets.
- Censorship is being routed-around, everywhere.
- Technology is spreading to areas which were untouched by the previous revolutions in broadcasting.
- No one is truly isolated anymore.
Back in the 20th century a lot of science fiction writers tried to describe this world and saw it as entirely dystopian. It's true that information overload and emotional distance remain risks, especially in the developed world.
But most of the world is not developed. Most people in the world have barely joined the conversation. Most of the world is just starting to listen to the rest of us, and gaining some confidence to speak in turn. With words, with money, with resources both physical and mental.
Here in the U.S. the Web is now about 14 years old, a teenager. But on much of the planet the Internet Era has barely begun. This will transform us as nothing before ever has, and there is nothing -- no dictator, no judge, no economic or political force -- which can stop it.
The only way to stop it is by cutting a place off from the entire world economy and increasingly, that's a price no one can meet.