Imagine a world where anyone can access and enjoy Hong Kong's rich cultural offerings, from anywhere in the world and at any time. With the launch of Google Art Project, that reality is here -- now. The Art Project has put the collections of the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Hong Kong Heritage Museum online in a vibrant, interactive format, making these artistic treasures available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection.
The Art Project provides only a glimpse of what's possible, however. Consider Hong Kong from the late '70s to the early '90s, when it produced over 300 movies a year and was the second largest exporter of movies worldwide, lagging only behind Hollywood. People from all around the world were fans of Hong Kong television, music and film. And this was in an age before the Internet! If you lived abroad and you wanted to watch a John Woo or Jet Li movie, your only options were to rent poor-quality VHS tapes or go to the Chinatown cinemas to watch the movie many months after it was released.
Imagine the popularity and global appeal Hong Kong culture could have, given what's possible with today's technology. Korea gives us some insight: Hallyu, the global "wave" of Korean culture, is gathering fans around the world by going online, not only in Asia but also in the Americas and Europe. In 2011, Korean Pop ("K-Pop") videos were viewed nearly 2.3 billion times on YouTube.
In today's turbulent times, it's understandable that economic growth is a priority. But that does not mean culture should be ignored. As Korean Hallyu reveals, the open Internet is an engine of massive growth in global cultural production, opening up many new economic opportunities.
But culture is not only critical to the economic future of many advanced economies; it is also, simply put, the essence of society. Combining culture with the open Internet allows ideas to cross-pollinate from any direction and across any border. Differences can be celebrated and more widely understood. In contrast, countries with a closed Internet will not only continue to lack a vibrant civil society, but will also struggle to contribute to global culture and understanding.
So what's next for Hong Kong? With its rich cultural heritage and impressive infrastructure, it is only steps away from harnessing the full potential of the open Internet. Hong Kong must continue to foster a grassroots culture of innovation, collaboration and creativity. And, it must ensure that the Internet remains free and open, with a flexible regulatory framework, especially in the area of copyright. Only then will it be able to leverage the true potential of the open Internet and tap into the talents of its vibrant society. If it does so, not only will the future match Hong Kong's cultural heydays of the '70s and the '80s -- it will far eclipse it.