The Magic and Freedom of Communication

Natalie Portman on The TalkLet me begin by saying I’m not going to post this to XBMC’s wall, because it really has absolutely nothing to do with XBMC. This marks the first blog post I’ve written in quite a while where that is the case. If this bothers you, feel free to jump down to the bottom, where this go around, rather than a picture, I actually have a VIDEO of Natalie Portman!

A few days ago, I was speaking with Imo CEO Ralph Harik,* and an interesting topic came up.

*Thank you, thank you. Yes, name dropping is truly an art and I play it with crayons and fingerpaints. 

The idea was this: The single most incredible thing about the internet is the way it enables communication on a grand, almost universal scale. A lot of people talk about how Twitter and Facebook were a huge part of the Arab Spring, but that’s a lot like saying hammers are a huge part of building a house.

Don’t get me wrong. Hammers ARE a huge part of building a house, but in the end they are just a tool. The tools of the Arab Spring included Facebook and Twitter, but the magical thing that those tools accomplished was education through communication.

Rany Jazayerli, a baseball statistician and writer* who I admire greatly, wrote about the Arab Spring more than a year ago. Here is his entire piece on the Arab Spring, but the crux of the story is this:

“For the last 15 years, then, the Arab world has had the access that was denied them for so long. They’ve seen the truth about how oppressive and hypocritical their own governments are, and they’ve seen the truth about how messy and imperfect and yet ultimately how ennobling and empowering Western democracies are. (In the words of Winston Churchill, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.”) And having already opened the barn door to letting the masses own satellite dishes, the governments of the region were mostly helpless to do anything about it. Baywatch, it turns out, was a Trojan horse.”

*For the record, Rany is actually a dermatologist who went to the U. of Michigan, but I’m fairly certain everyone who reads his columns cares very little about his dermatology practice, because WOW is he a good writer.

Before Facebook and Twitter…, heck, before the internet had reached these places, a far older tool was allowing for the nefarious communication of information to the people of a region. Citizens were being allowed to watch TV on their satellite dishes, because that TV was cheap. And then Al Jazeera decided to arrive on the scene and speak Arabic news for the first time. While Americans aren’t too happy with Al Jazeera on occasion, there’s no denying that, above all else, they provide a counterpoint to the state-controlled news, and that counterpoint effectively says, “Hey, did you know that in democracies, the state tends not to brutally kill its citizens?”

I think that’s why some countries are choosing to consider the internet as an inalienable right. Not because it actually is, but because, since the invention of the printing press, there’s never been a single technology that has better boosted the freedom of speech.*

*The freedom of speech brings up an interesting secondary question, by the way. I wonder if America, as a nation, would have been better off guaranteeing the Freedom of Communication, rather than the Freedom of Speech. Maybe that’s a meaningless distinction, but really, the purpose of speech is communication. The transmittal and free exchange of ideas. And I think Communication better defines that.

Anyway, what I’m slowly working my way back to is this. The reason I find Imo so interesting is because it does something that neither Facebook nor Twitter do. Facebook is very good at blast your ideas to your friends, and allowing your friends to share along those ideas. Twitter is very good at blasting simple thoughts and allowing the ENTIRE WORLD to share those thoughts.

Yet for all that Facebook and Twitter are incredible, and for all that they’ve made it so every single person can act as a news channel broadcasting over satellites to inform the entire world, they miss one crucial thing.

They don’t provide an avenue for realtime, public communication. Comments on Facebook posts sort of work for discourse. Twitter hashtags are another hacked up way of doing the job. But there is nothing that truly mirrors the realtime nature of public discussion in either arena.

Which is why the network is so remarkable. At any moment, a person can blast a thought on the network and a realtime, always changing conversation can erupt from that thought. People can jump in and out of conversations. No idea is forced into an unnecessary category and no person has to wait for the website to refresh itself before hearing a response.

In my opinion, this is the next obvious step forward in making the world a giant, talking, communicating network. And I am excited to see what happens next.

As Natalie Portman says, before you can advance your cause, you need to Talk.


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