Web of tyrants

Even those who are wary of the utopianism the net has generated tend to take it for granted that the new communications technologies have saved us from the need to worry about censorship. Sceptics fear that the web provides us with too much information, not too little. Enthusiasts see a future of unlimited free speech when all the old arguments about libel, official secrecy and blasphemy become redundant.

To see how far the consensus spreads look at Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?, a new collection of the views of 150 of the world’s leading minds on the technological revolution. Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, speaks for the sceptical. He turns off his computer when he needs to think. Like Nicholas Carr — whose essay ‘Is Google Making us Stupid?’ infuriated Silicon Valley — he finds that the restless interruptions of working online have added to the ‘world’s attention deficit disorder’. The net’s dismal achievement has been to reduce further our collective attention span ‘from the depths to which television brought it’.

All bracingly iconoclastic. But when Tegmark turns to freedom of speech, he is as sure as the most wide-eyed cyber-utopian that it will flourish online.
Carry on reading

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