TOWARD A SMALLER, FREER CYBER-WORLD
A Colombian woman whom I met online e-mails me details about a romantic rendezvous in South America. I query an acquaintance in Argentina about investment possibilities in his country. A young Romanian dentist e-mails me for advice in his practice. A Chinese engineer e-mails greetings to pass to my mother. A young African student asks me about medical colleges in my city. A German friend and I compare economic conditions between his country and mine. Three Russian women and I exchange comparisons about life between my country and theirs via e-mail. I send this article in for publication on the World Wide Web, so you Czechs can read it and learn English.
These are all everyday occurrences in the domain of cyberspace. Exchanges between such diverse people were unthinkable merely a few years ago. Now they are available to anyone who can use a computer. We are united in communication as never before.
I sit at this computer every night, yet still have not fully grasped the significance of the changes. The internet is now my portal to the rest of the world. I can contact people anywhere on this planet, from Antarctica to Zanzibar. So can you! If I want to plan a trip to Iran this summer, I may meet friends from that country on the internet, then visit them in their native land. They may learn from me, and I may learn from them. In no time in history had the whole of mankind has it been so easy for people around the world to communicate.
Communication is essentially the passing of information between individuals. Freer communication means wider availability of information. Thoughout history, tyrants have been able to subjugate populations by denial of information. In olden times, only elite church officials could read Latin and thus have access to Holy Scripture. They were empowered by virtue of their monopoly of knowledge.
In the same way, your former Communist masters maintained power by suppressing information. Books were banned from your reading. Television and radio broadcasts from Western Europe were jammed. All successful dictators realize that the continued power of a tyrant depends on keeping his subjects ignorant.
Now times have changed, and this is harder than ever. Even someone from North Korea may find access to a computer, and discover that his despicable government is lying to him. Governments can no longer keep citizens in bondage by keeping them uninformed. It is now harder than ever before to keep people unfree.
I am convinced that when the history of the world is written, we will recognize two major inventions that enlightened mankind. The first was the printing press, which made books affordable for the majority of people, not just for the wealthy elite. The internet will be recognized as equally important. Because of it, the average person cannot only obtain information, but easily obtain it from anyplace in the world.