III.3 The Cyber Utopians:
While there is general agreement that we are in the midst of a Digital Revolution, there is manifest disagreement as to whether or not this is a positive development. Today, the contemporary debate on the Digital Revolution can be divided into three fundamentally different schools of thought: The Cyber Utopian , The Cyber Agnostics and the Cyber Manichaean.
The Cyber Utopian argument runs along the following lines:
Digital technology is changing the lives of people around the world and, in most cases, demonstrably for the better. In developing countries with weak infrastructure, cellphones are an invaluable, and relatively cheap, communications tool used for everything from keeping in touch with families to banking and organizing political rallies by SMS.
Farmers can find out the international prices for their crops, and can find buyers online. As countries get increased access to broadband and hi-speed internet, citizens can now dispense with a costly and bulky computers, and instead use their 3G cellphones for internet communications, watching television programs and, as was seen in the Arab Spring, filming real time events and uploading them to websites like YouTube for instant mass consumption.
On the ground in the developing world, digital technology has been a powerful democratizing force for people who had previously been living in pre-industrial conditions. Indeed, there are cyber utopians who see social media and the internet as a panacea which can cure all social ills ranging from weak infrastructure to authoritarian regimes. These cyber utopians see the internet itself as an intrinsic force for good.
III.4 Cyber Agnostics:
The rosy cyber utopian scenario is opposed both by the cyber agnostics, or those who deny that the internet is inherently positive or negative, as well as by cyber Manichaeans, or those who see the internet as inherently sinister or evil.
Perhaps the best known proponent of cyber-agnosticism is author Evgeny Morozov, for whom cyber utopians fail to see that the internet and social media guarantee nothing, and that these media are only technological tools that can be used either or for good or for evil.
Morozov urges that we adopt a more dispassionate approach in our evaluation of the internet which he calls cyber-agnosticism: “For cyber-agnostics, the goodness or badness of the internet is besides the point altogether; individual technologies and practices are what deserve our attention.”
Morozov introduces a healthy note of skepticism for all wishing to better understand and analyze the digital revolution; Morozov overlooks the fact that any new technology changes us even as we use it, and sometimes changing us in ways we never could have imagined.
For example, while he reports how dissidents employed the internet and social media as communications tools in the Arab Spring, he fails to consider the possibility of a generation gap due to the younger generation’s use of digital technology itself. The content of the message being communicated is only part of the picture.
Another, perhaps equally important part, is the effect of the technology being used itself; as Marshall McLuhan noted, “The medium, or process, of our time – electronic technology – is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of personal life… Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication…”
In other words, one cannot properly assess the impact of a new technology without taking into account what some might call the unanticipated side effects the use of that technology might have.
For example, in the pharmaceutical industry, for example, medical authorities recognize that a given medication might work well for a specific condition, but that the same medication might also have very unpleasant side effects even worse than the original problem. A classic case was Thalidomide, initially considered a “wonder drug “ for insomnia, but which later was discovered to cause horrendous birth defects in pregnant women.  The same potential for unintended side effects exists today in contemporary communications technology. For example, the now ubiquitous cell phone is generally recognized as an invaluable tool around the world for facilitating communications.
However, the American Cancer Society now recommends minimizing use of hand-held devices because radiation from cellphones may cause brain cancer for your brain, and most authorities around the world would now agree that cell phones do not enhance driving at all.
The sheer speed of technological change has seemingly presented government authorities with an almost impossible challenge; while the new technologies offer such great promise of economic and social progress, there is simply not enough time to explore the negative implications of any given technology until after it is already in widespread use. Such is the case with the internet. The popular demand for access to hi-speed internet has been so strong that even all but the most repressive regimes have been forced to offer some form of access to their population, albeit frequently with great ambivalence.
III.5 The Cyber Manichaeans:
The Cyber Manichaeans are those who believe our exponentially increasing reliance on digital technology is inherently evil or destructive. Disparaged often as technological Luddites by cyber utopians and cyber agnostics the cyber Manichaeans often express strong emotional attachment to threatened analog technologies such as print, music and film. American author and media critic Nicholas Carr might be described as a cyber Manichaean when it comes to print.
In the early days of digital technology in the 1980s, the speed of change was limited due to a lack of bandwidth. Lack of bandwidth means lower capacity to transmit information, and , as a result, the first media to have been threatened were those requiring low levels of electronic information, such as print and music; today, there are a few endangered species in the print medium. First and foremost, perhaps, is the newspaper, which was already struggling to survive after radio and television began to provide competing services and siphon off advertisers. The internet has effectively provided the coup de grace, and it has been estimated that newspapers will no longer be commercially viable in the United States by the year 2016. 
For those generations, which have grown up with newspapers as an essential element in the domestic and cultural environment, this will be a dramatic change. Some, like Nicholas Carr, have compared the digital revolution to the invention of the Gutenberg printing press; in this respect, Carr is in complete agreement with McLuhan’s famous thesis that “the medium is the message.”
However, unlike McLuhan, Carr laments the displacement of traditional print media such as newspapers and books by electronic media like the internet and digital tablets. In his book, “The Shallows”, Carr makes the case that, for centuries, the very activity of reading has trained our brains to concentrate for extended periods of time, thus enabling serious thought. He fears that reliance on digital media will cause us, as a species, to lose this capacity to concentrate.
As a result, Carr fears that future generations may be incapable of serious thought or contemplation – which most would agree would be a serious unintended side effect. However, while Carr makes an impassioned case, he neglects to explore what new positive cerebral capacities might evolve from exposure to digital media, capacities envisioned by McLuhan when he wrote :”The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.”
In their book, “Born Digital- The First Generation of Digital Natives”,John Palfrey and Urs Gasser express a classic cyber utopian view when they write that: ” the digital revolution has already made this world a better place…we are at a crossroads. There are two possible paths before us- one in which we destroy what is great about the Internet, and one in which we make smart choices and head towards a bright future in a digital age.”
The Digital Revolution has thus swept the world into a technological crossroads, and international decision makers have few road maps to help guide them. Indeed, all they possess is empirical data derived from past human experience, along with a a vague belief, supported by general consensus that technological progress is good because all progress is inherently good - even though we know from many scientific studies of the environment that some technologies can cause major problems no one could have envisioned when these technologies were created.
In this context, it is worth noting that once prominent Cyber Utopians like Julian Assange have become increasingly Manichaean. In a recent op-ed piece in the International Herald Tribune, for example, Julian Assange describes Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen’s new book The New Digital Age as “ a startlingly clear and provocative blueprint for technocratic imperialism”, and warns that “the erosion of individual privacy in the West and the attendant centralization of power make abuses inevitable.”
III.6 The Choice: Entropy or Negentropy?
In the laws of thermodynamics and biology, entropy describes the state of being incapable of change, or adaptation to ever-changing biological imperatives, and which ultimately perishes. These terms from biology are sometimes used to describe the spiritual state of a culture or a civilization as a living organism.
American media critic Gene Youngblood employs this analogy in his visionary work “Expanded Cinema”, when he writes, ” We’ve learned from physics that the only anti-entropic force in the universe, or what is called negentropy (negative entropy) results from the process of feedback. Feedback exists between systems that are not closed, but rather open and contingent upon other systems…for most practical purposes, it is enough to say a system is “closed’ when entropy dominates the feedback process.”
Confronted by the rapid onslaught of technological change, it is important to note that institutional and corporate responses to the digital revolution around the world have frequently been both reactionary and negative. Change is seen as a threat to vested political and economic interests, and the telecommunications revolution certainly threatens the status quo in a multitude of ways.
For example, in countries like France and Brazil, newspaper publishers have seen what has happened to their colleagues in the United States, and they are refusing to participate in the Google Search engine; they do not see why they should hasten their own demise by giving Google data free of charge that Google will then use to augment its user base, thereby becoming ever more attractive to advertisers.
These publishers are absolutely correct, of course, but one suspects even they realize they are only buying time, and that they cannot delay the inevitable.
Such, at any rate, as shall be seen, has been the case with the music industry
 Followers of the Swedish media debate may remember a similar breakdown of attitudes towards technology in the late Lasse Svanberg’s excellent “ Stalsparven – Om 90-talets medier och om” informationssamhaellet”.Prisma, 1991, p.4
 Evgeny Morozov ( The Net Delusion)Public Affairs, 2011, p. xii
 Evgeny Morozov ( ibid.) p.337
 McLuhan and Fiore ( ibid) p.8
 According to the International Telecommunications Union, an estimated 86.7% of the world’s population had cellphone access in 2012. Mobithinking.com/mobile-marketing-tools/latest-mobile-stats/a#subscribers
 North Korea is currently the only country that does not offer any internet access to its citizens. En.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telecommunications_in_North Korea
 Nicholas Carr (The Shallows- What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains”)W.W. Norton and Company, 2011
 McLuhan and Fiore,(Ibid,) P.67
 John Palfrey and Urs Gasser (Born Digital- Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives ) Basic Books, 2011, p.7
 Julian Assange ( The Banality of ‘don’t de evil’) International Herald Tribune, June 3, 2013
 Gene Youngblood ( Expanded Cinema)E.P. Dutton, 1970. P.63