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July 30, 2008


Andrew Lih

Nice roundup of lots of good issues. I often wonder what the ideal "Let's bring SV people to China" conference/summit might look like. And no, I don't mean something like Scoble visits CNBloggercon.


That was an awesome post. I wish I could add to it - but you seemed to get right down to it. I hope some of the predictions/thoughts you had are wrong (i911 = no more internet freedom), but the more we talk about it now - the easier it will be to fight for freedom of speech if that ever happens.

lewis shepherd

Excellent post. I've thought along similar lines for many years, and only now is the China issue bringing this dichotomy in worldview (inevitablist vs realist) to the forefront... but it is of course relevant in Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and as you mention even in the software industry or S.V. itself! Lazy if well-intentioned thinking behind it, though I'm not always sure just how well-intentioned.

Steven E. Streight aka Pluperfecter formerly Vaspers the Grate

You don't understand. Web Twenty require freedom of expression and collaboration, which Red China is opposed to.

We ignore China because it's full of poison dog food, sloppy industry, and totalitarianism. They are anti-user, anti-web revolution.

China has nothing to offer the Valley. We have nothing but democracy in wild and crazy majesty to import.


An excellent and thoughtful post. While I agree with both the attribution of oppressive ethnocentricity within the Silicon Valley bubble, and the potential downside of so much data concentrated in so few profit-motivated hands, the solutions to those problems are very different.

The former will either be cured or validated by the returns on capital more globally enlightened investment strategies can deliver.

The latter, I fear, is just the price to be paid for our collective unwillingness to pay for all the services we love and use on the web.

We can pay in dollars, or in data. The market seems to have decided.

Yong Su Kim

Great post. It's always refreshing to see someone discuss these issues without Silicon Valley colored glasses.

One thing you might want to look into is how the "benevolent dictators" have behaved in other countries with very different circumstances.

For example, recently in Korea, the government started cracking down on freedom of expression in Internet portals.

There were severe anti-government protests related to the import of US beef. The Government required internet portals to remove content related to protests but Google was the only portal that didn't comply. It essentially became a safe haven for protest organizers. This resulted in a big boost in traffic to Google and YouTube in Korea.

However, recently, Google caved in to police pressure and withdraw a YouTube video that was a public news broadcast about police corruption and nepotism. It seems that if the issue isn't related to commercial interests (ie. boost in traffic), the benevolent dictator tends to change their position pretty easily.

If even Google, one of the most benevolent dictators in Silicon Valley behaves this way outside the US, it does raise some interesting questions.


chinese will be the language of the web within a generation .. not in numbers, but in importance ... because chinese has more levels of meaning than english, the machine-readable needs of the semantic web will have more to work with, hence, its importance... if you only know english you will be left behind


Been thinking about very similar issues for quite a while and will need to mull this over even more.
I'm a semi-nomadic French-speaking ethnographer from Montreal, so my perspective is quite specific. But my thoughts go in similar directions.
The ideological dimensions are quite important. In the Valley-type groupthink, there are some shared assumptions about market economy, globalization, neo-liberalism, and even social darwinism. These assumptions are widely shared throughout the "geek niche" but they're far from universal. They form a fairly consistent worldview through which every idea is evaluated. In anthropology, we call this attitude "ethnocentrism." And, of course, if you add the hegemony and benevolent dictatorship components, you get an explosive mixture.
What's funny is that, in this Valley-focused group, there's a lot of self-congratulations about "The Good We Do Throughout The World." They literally can't imagine that anyone would use critical thinking with their ideas since they're unequivocally Good.
Ah, well...

Mike Butcher

Excellent post. Yes, it's good to be reminded that T&Cs are, in the end, a thin promise.

Jeremy Ross

A dictatorship would suck. But it seems to me we have something that's an oligopoly at worst. I don't think it's in any of the companies' interest you mentioned to do really stupid things to users. If we have healthy competition (an assumption, sure) then interests shouldn't be too divergent.

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