Tech and Citizen Empowerment

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  • Jared Cohen

Speaker

Jared Cohen
Director, Google Ideas


Read excerpts from the discussion below.

The current generation of young people is the first to be socialized with tools to own, develop, and disseminate content without going through an intermediary. They are positioned to use technology to catch the older generation by surprise. That’s particularly relevant for governments. The Arab Spring has demonstrated that technology has an empowerment bias—it empowers people both for good and for ill.

In the fall of 2004 I moved to Iran because I wanted to interview reformists, journalists, and dissidents. In the southern city of Shiraz, I saw young people tapping away at mobile devices. I went up to one and asked, “What are you doing?” And he said, “I’m using Bluetooth.” He was trying to recruit a bassist for his band. Another was organizing an underground rave. I said, “You’re all out here in the open organizing illegal things. Aren’t you worried about getting caught?” They all laughed and said, “Nobody over 30 knows what Bluetooth is.” Fast-forward to 2009 and the Green Revolution—the government rigged the election and the population stormed into the streets. The government shut down SMS and the Internet. Bluetooth was one of the only ways young people were able to communicate.

One young person in Egypt said, “This wasn’t my fight, but then Mubarak took away my Internet and took away my access to mobile devices and made this relevant to me.” Had Mubarak not shut down SMS and the Internet, there’s a better chance he would have stayed in power.

Revolutions will happen faster, but they’re going to be just as hard to finish. Technology doesn’t create new leaders. It means you can mobilize without having a plan. Revolutions will need real democratic leaders, and countries will need institutions that those leaders can leverage. We’re going to see the emergence of a global social contract. Citizens and states will seek to keep each other in check and I believe we’ll have a smarter, more stable world.

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