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Michele Hunt Headshot

Thanks to the Internet, 'We the People' Now Have the Capacity to Choose a Positive Future!

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There are some people who choose the dark side of life, those who commit acts of terror and destruction as we recently witnessed with the horrific Boston Marathon bombings. Those who choose to hurt and abuse people and the planet remind us of what humans are capable of when they act out of fear and hate. They make it easy for us to forget that the vast majority of people in the world are good. We know this because of the tremendous outpouring of love and support people give one another in times of tragedies and heartaches. Compassionate, caring people far out number the bad ones -- not by hundreds, thousands or even millions -- but by hundreds of millions.

Most people want a life of love, peace and prosperity and yet throughout history the majority of people have been controlled by a small group of self-serving people. We were under the illusion that we were powerless to change things; that collective mind-set is dramatically changing. Empowered by Internet technology, especially social media, people around the world are rejecting repressive governments and policies and choosing a more inclusive way to live together. Over the last decade we in the United States have witnessed the erosion of our precious democracy. We have seen some of our elected representatives serving themselves; doing what ever it takes to get reelected. The most blatant example is the recent defeat of the bill in the U.S. Senate to expand background checks for the purchase of guns. In spite of the fact that 90 percent of Americans support it, 46 senators blocked the bill. We are also experiencing the negative impact of the ill-conceived sequestration; a totally unnecessary law does not serve the American public, it hurts us.

I believe that the people of the United States will stop this trend. As evidenced in our last presidential election, voters, enabled by social media, used their collective power to reject leaders who did not represent the will of the majority. We cherish democracy because it gives people an avenue to preserve life, liberty and the opportunity to pursue happiness. This is not just an American dream; people around the world are choosing a new future. We now have the capacity -- the collective will, the technology and the tools, to solve our problems and create our future by tapping into the best in us. I believe that people around the world are creating amazing social technological innovations at a dizzying pace, mostly out of a deep hunger to connect with others to do good in the world.

It is estimated that 2.4 billion people are on the Internet today. By most accounts that is over one third of the world's population and over the next decade a majority of the world's population will be on the Internet.

Cisco has a compelling new TV ad that poses an intriguing question: "What if the next big thing isn't a thing at all, it's lots of things, all waking up becoming part of the global phenomenon we call the internet of everything." They go on to say, "It's going to be amazing and exciting and maybe, most remarkably, not that far away."

Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, and Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, have co-authored a new book, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business. They assert, "In the coming decades, five billion people -- the majority of humanity -- will come online for the first time, mostly in parts of the world ridden with conflict, instability and repression."

I have been traveling to Brazil for the last several years doing research for my book, DreamMakers Agents of Transformation. I had the opportunity to meet people who live in unimaginable poverty dramatically transform their lives and uplift their communities enabled by Internet technology. I was introduced to the wonderful people at the Center for Digital Inclusion. CDI is a non-profit organization that partners with grass-roots community organizations to provide technology based education to people living in the some of the most impoverished and marginalized communities in the world. The people at CDI not only teach technology and digital literacy, they also teach civic education, community building, empowerment and entrepreneurial skills. Empowered by the Internet students work in teams on community challenges including: economic development, human rights, health education, environmental protection and preventing violence

I visited three favelas surrounding Rio de Janeiro to interview people: These communities resembled the shantytowns I had seen in Panama and South Africa with a distinctive difference. CDI schools are vibrant neighborhood community centers bustling with activities. In one of the centers I saw entire families learning together. They had a computer service center where they were downloading sample driver license tests and helping people research health issues on line. In another room they had a computer service center where they sold computer repair, printing and scanning services. This was a dynamic learning center and thriving micro-enterprise made possible by tapping into the amazing power of the Internet.

I interviewed former drug dealers, kidnappers and gang members who had transformed their lives using Internet-based education. Wanderson was a 20-year-old young man whose single mother with five children had moved to Rio in search of employment. By the time he was 14, he was a part of a gang. His life was about selling drugs, shootouts with rival gangs and running from the police, One day he got caught and was sent to a halfway house that had a CDI school and his life totally changed. Today Wanderson is the director of the largest CDI Center in Rio and he is giving speeches to the executives of corporations. He has met with Michael Dell, CEO of Dell and a supporter of CDI. Wanderson has totally transformed his life.

Another young man named Leco lived in one of the most violent favelas in Rio, with a population of 35 to 40 thousand people. When he was 17, facing a choice to join a gang or join the army, he found CDI. Today Leco is the technology coordinator for all 83 of the CDI centers in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Leco explains,

We are teaching people how to question and change their realities. The most important work of CDI is not the technology skills; it is using those skills to awaken the critical understanding, the critical consciousness that you can transform your life. This experience has taught me to follow my dreams.

The Center for Digital Inclusion is headquartered in Rio de Janeiro with operations in 12 countries. CDI's work has directly benefited over 92,000 people through its network of 780 CDI Community Centers throughout South and Central America. Rodrigo Baggio, founder of CDI, sums up the liberating power access to the Internet can have in the world:

My personal vision is to mobilize and teach hundreds of thousands of people all over the world, to become change-makers. If we use information technology, as a citizen's rights and social action tool, we will not only change the lives of people in low-income communities; I believe we can change the world. I believe we can achieve more freedom and equity for everyone -- that is my E-topia.

These examples, although anecdotal, demonstrate that it no longer takes decades to create deep sustainable social change -- access to the Internet is the game changer. Imagine a world where everyone and everything are connected through a system that has no centralized governance -- everyone owns the Internet. We will have the opportunity to transform deeply entrenched negative social patterns into healthy, nurturing behaviors to co-create a better world. It may be impossible to calibrate the impact these phenomenal developments will have on our lives, our institutions and our world. What we do know is that thanks to the Internet and the social media phenomenon, for the first time in the history of humankind, "We the People" will be the most powerful force in our global society. If I am correct in my assumption that most people in the world are good and share some common human aspirations like love, freedom, peace, health, happiness and prosperity, then "We The People" have the opportunity to co-create a brand new world that reflects our collective desire for a world where everyone and our planet has the opportunity to flourish.