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29.1.06

Even the virtual world has borders 

’s decision to censor its results for has been best explained at the if:book blog, where it’s submitted that the internet is not so much a , but a virtual representation of the planet’s . It shatters some of the optimism in which the was founded, but it is a force that —or those who support the idea of the web uniting all people as neighbours—need to be aware of:

As Jack Goldsmith and Timothy Wu explain in an excellent article in Legal Affairs (adapted from their forthcoming book Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World), China, far from being the boxed-in exception to an otherwise borderless net, is actually just the uglier side of a global reality. The net has been mapped out geographically into “a collection of nation-state networks,” each with its own politics, social mores, and consumer appetites. …
   The case of Google, while by no means unique, serves well to illustrate how threadbare the illusion of the has become. The company's famous credo, “don’t be evil,” just doesn’t hold up in the messy, complicated real world. “Choose the lesser evil” might be more appropriate.


   I still have a lot of sympathy for the view that Google was only after the money—after all, when companies float publicly, a little of their soul is lost. It happened to Yahoo!, and this may be the sign of Google “jumping the shark”. If that is the case, people might now move on to the next that helps them unite with the rest of the planet: the desire to network across borders, I believe, is a human trait, not just one of computer geeks.
   As Ben Vershbow concluded at if:book:

Part of us desperately wanted to believe Google’s silly slogans because they said something about the utopian promise of the net. But the net is part of the world, and the world is not so simple.

   Unless, we make it simple—roll on the next service. I’m going to hold on to that belief as I grow Lucire into print in different nations.
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An earlier post, dated January 13, illustrates just how hard it is to do business when the Politburo cracks down on you. For every foreign company there, there are five local companies who can do the same job, argues Jared Kim, who had one of his servers confiscated by the Internet Security division of the Public Security Bureau of the People’s Government in Red China. ‘China is making companies play ball by the local rules, and if those companies don’t like those rules they can find another court because there are many other players willing to take their place. Foreign companies don’t have a gambling chip in this particular situation,’ he blogs. ‘Google [or] Yahoo not censoring search results? Shut them down and have everyone use Baidu. MSN or … Blogger not censoring blogs? Shut them down and have everyone use Blogcn.’  
We have to realize that the Net is not disconnected from the real world, it is indeed part of it. This doesn't mean that we should stop nurturing greater ambitions but we need to take reality into account as well. This reminds me of a column I read recently in le Monde where the author noted that Western nations (the US and Europe) need to realize that the world is a heterogeneous place. He was referring to Iran but the same logic applies.  
How very true, Robert. Cross-cultural dealings are a constant reminder—and I have noticed the United States become more detached from the rest of the world in the last few years, in particular. Every day I am reminded of this as I contrast business dealings there with how they were 10 or 15 years ago.
   Meanwhile, the post-election riots in the Palestinian areas lately are another sign—a western onlooker might see the fervour there as uncivilized, but there are cultural and political reasons for them, and they do not make the participants “less civilized” than their counterparts in a western nation.  
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Note

Entries from 2006 to the end of 2009 were done on the Blogger service. As of January 1, 2010, this blog has shifted to a Wordpress installation, with the latest posts here.
   With Blogger ceasing to support FTP publishing on May 1, I have decided to turn these older pages in to an archive, so you will no longer be able to enter comments. However, you can comment on entries posted after January 1, 2010.


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