What’s Old is New Again

by Asher Kohn on 4/22/2010 · 3 comments

I’ve been awfully quiet on this space these past couple of months for a variety of reasons, but this quote (that I stole from Steve LeVine and am citing as such) from Craig Newmark, of Craigslist renown, took me aback:

By the end of this decade, power and influence will shift largely to those people with the best reputations and trust networks, from people with money and nominal power. That is, peer networks will confer legitimacy on people emerging from the grassroots.

Is it just me, or is Newmark describing, in a loose sense, the idea of qawm? I’m skeptical of pre-Zahir Shah Afghanistan being the model for a sort of future network that can form the basis of a state. And, in my vastly unscientific opinion, I think that a straw poll of Kyrgyz and Kyrgyzstanis wouldn’t lead to anyone preferring to live in an Afghanistan-esque situation.

I agree with most of the other writers on this site, I think, when I say that Twitter et al have done little more than speed up unrest that would be happening besides. It says a lot that Otunbayeva is the interim leader, not some random cadre of students or someone equally unknown. There is more to ruling a state, or even disseminating information, then reputation and trust. “Nominal Power” is still, and will be still, plenty powerful.

I’m awfully optimistic about the power of crowds. And I think that the more access they have to cheap technology. Like, say, building real houses and infrastructure instead of slums out of barbed wire and sandbags. Real change off of the internet has to occur as well, and to take that sort of change on requires Newmark’s nominal power. I’m not sure that has happened, or has the chance to happen, quite yet.


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– author of 33 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Asher is currently in law school at Washington University in Saint Louis. He is studying natural resource law in Central Asia and its intersection with different theories of jurisprudence. Besides Registan.net, Asher has written for The Los Angeles Times, Run of Play, İstanbul Altı, and Istanbul Eats. He has worked with the Natural Resource Law Center and the International Crisis Group, where he studied legal and political traction over a variety of issues.

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{ 3 comments }

reader April 22, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Considering facebook’s typical m.o. of censorship and siding with the powers that be, I wouldn’t put too much trust in internet communities that ultimately are dependent on infrastructure provided by multinational corporations and governments, i.e. the current power elites.
Remember the power of crowds is also the power of the mob. The mob, under the right leadership, is capable of all kinds of tyrannies and repression. And human nature is still far too authoritarian in nature, and people on the left are still far too inclined to attribute authoritarianism to outside stimuli, while people on the right revel in authoritarianism. Know thyself is still the best statement about the human experience. We won’t get over our fear of the Other, and the attendant need for strong daddies (many of whom are actually sociopaths) to protect us, until we realize that deep down we are still scared of those sabertooths wandering around just beyond the fire circle.

Alec L April 26, 2010 at 7:57 pm

true that, reader. facebook has taken down profiles at the request of police departments. the folks there want their site to stay plenty benign.
of course, social networking has much more potential in places where the authorities aren’t up on such technology. at the very least it can get information out to foreign news sources, for what that’s worth. and although russia might be staging cyber attacks, nobody else in Eurasia seems able to do the same.

reader April 27, 2010 at 9:07 am

It’s been four years, but I could never access facebook in the UAE. I wonder if it was/is also blocked in Saudi Arabia. With all the heart palpitating and hand wringing over social media in Iran, I always thought the elephant in the room was our Peninsular Arab friends, who somehow always get left out of the discussion on internet rights. At least Iran had a twitter community of sorts, is there a Saudi equivalent? And the fact that the official and semi-official US organs don’t extensively comment on the existence or lack thereof of internet freedom in said Arab state speaks volumes about our hypocritical stances around the world.

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