Tuesday, August 3, 2010


The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) is initiating a policy of interfering with the use of the Blackberry smart phone because, in the words of one reporter, "They're finding it too hard to spy on." (The NPR story is here.

This report reminded me of another: Just before his surprising execution (surprising mostly to him) at the hands of revolutionaries in 1989, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu proclaimed an edict outlawing typewriters and copy machines. I recall thinking at the time that outlawing typewriters is truly the last-gasp act of a desperate man.  (The Fearless Leader actually tried to cover other threats by requiring the registration of hand-writing samples.) Although the image of the bodies of Dictator and Mrs. Ceausescu slumped under bloody sheets is not particularly funny, the typewriter gambit still makes me laugh.

I suppose this amusement has to take a kind of long-range view: Certainly the U.A.E. Blackberry crackdown will have immediate effects, but certainly it, too, will eventually be viewed as the laughable, desperate measure that it is.

Reasonable folks can disagree about the positive or negative effects of the recent WikiLeaks exposure of the Afghan war logs, but surely an internet-enabled transparency is a good thing for freedom. (I have not yet read an analysis comparing the Wikileaks release to that of the Pentagon Papers -- and who is on which side regarding these two exercises in truth-telling.)

We have learned by now that technology can't save us ("You said, 'We will ride upon swift steeds'--therefore your pursuers shall be swift!" - Isaiah 30:16), and the openness of the web will simply call forth more creative attempts to hide reality and disseminate untruths. (Ironically, the internet helps to expose lies and to spread "the big lie.") But is it not true, dear reader, that, in the words of my late friend Gerhard Frost, "We can put the truth out on the street and let it take care of itself."?


Joseph G. Crippen said...

I don't know - I want to agree with Frost, but the relativity of what people mean by "truth" is concerning. Repeat a falsehood enough and someone will believe it, and the Internet is a vast repeater. "There is nothing so absurd that it cannot be believed as truth if repeated often enough." William James

Keith said...

And I don't trust the pell mell rush to put everything on the net; every trivial thought that arrived half baked in someone's brain, all the drivel the mob can produce, etc. What's the rush? Since there are no filters, and it looks like there never will be any filters, folks will come up with their own way of coping with the information fire hose that blasts oceans of stuff directly to the desktop. I'd like to hear of a technology that captures revenue from every input into the internet. Like snail mail does (did?) If I want you to read a note I have written, I have to put it into an envelope and stick a stamp on it. If you want to send me a package it will cost you. Hmmm. I wonder if anyone is working on this? Bet they are!