Freedom to Choose: Division v. Connection

Hillary Clinton

Photo by U.S. Department of State — United States Government Work United States Government Work

“‘Brotherhood and Freedom!’ Yuri, what splendid words.”

The sincerity of a protest march and the brutality that follows in David Lean’s film portrayal of Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago perfectly captures how optimistic words for justice can result in utter savagery.

Yet, we cannot resist the hope and promise of new words for new worlds.

Last week might have been a turning point in the march to brotherhood and freedom for the online world.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech at the Newseum in Washington, DC on January 21, 2010 will be remembered for its global call for government responsibility and the opportunity for citizen action.

“We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas.”

Clinton, whose tone-deaf chant of “Go to” during her presidential campaign cemented an image of a politician out of touch with a movement in her own party, has clearly been learning lessons from her boss. In her speech, she noted that President Obama believes that “the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become. He spoke about how access to information helps citizens hold their own governments accountable, generates new ideas, encourages creativity and entrepreneurship.”

In other words, the online access makes better citizens, and can better governments.

Clinton is aware of the web’s ease at disseminating misinformation, let alone platforms to spew hatred: “And technologies with the potential to open up access to government and promote transparency can also be hijacked by governments to crush dissent and deny human rights.”

However, history has also shown that noble citizens can demand noble politicians. Clinton’s speech is a rallying cry to choose connection over division:

“The Berlin Wall symbolized a world divided and it defined an entire era. Today, remnants of that wall sit inside this museum where they belong, and the new iconic infrastructure of our age is the internet. Instead of division, it stands for connection.”

As Clinton rightly noted, our current approach to information networks has formed “a new nervous system of our planet.”

Here’s hoping that we will live in a future where authoritarian governments and their politicians will be the ones who deserve to be nervous.

- Bill Reichblum

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