The same technology that allowed Edward Snowden to access, download and share thousands upon thousands of classified documents is the same technology that listens to thousands upon thousands of phone calls and reads thousands upon thousands of messages... which frightened Snowden and catalyzed him to action and so on.
Yet the same people who call Snowden a hero, call the NSA a monster, and ironically, the same people who call the NSA a protector, call Snowden a traitor.
Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn developed the basic protocols for the exchange of digital information with the idea of allowing the scientific community (and military to be truthful) to connect their computers in ways that would create exponential value. That was back in 1973 and the truth is that since they left the hotel room that holed them up in Palo Alto in 1973, not much has changed in the basic interconnectivity platform we call the World Wide Web, Internet or whatever.
Technology has morphed and evolved around them. Infinite new use cases have been created and deployed -- but the basics? Pretty much intact.
To that end, I call to your attention to a recent interview -- with each of them separately -- by John Markoff of the New York Times. It's a great piece and worth the read as they have slightly different views on privacy and openness -- worth pondering.
And ponder I did -- on a number of points -- but there was one point by Robert Kahn that gave me the most to ponder:
When asked about the Internet of the future he said, "You can't gaze into the crystal ball and see the future. What the Internet is going to be in the future is what society makes it..."
And there you have it. What are we making it? What are we making of it?
Its creators saw it as a way to solve problems quickly and efficiently in ways no one had ever considered. And truth is every developer I have ever spoken to -- whether they were searching for a cure for disease, looking to end world hunger, or just make it easier for us to shop or play -- said the same thing.
Truth is, as I pondered (lots of that), Pope Francis weighed in and I think made it clear and gave it direction.
He said, "The digital world is not 'a network of wires,' but rather 'a network of people.'"
Okay, we all know that Facebook, Twitter, etc. are all built for dialogue and for sharing, but then he followed:
To (have a) dialogue means to believe that the "other" has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective. Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the pretense that they alone are valid and absolute.
Next time you read a nasty post anywhere, think on that point because that in fact is the point: The whole damn thing was created to facilitate worthwhile dialogue -- to get another point of view, to expand our perspective. That was and is the point.
Finally: "The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God."
Encounter and solidarity. And there you have it.
So as we ponder -- and I hope you do -- think about the dichotomy of encounter and solidarity. Dichotomy because way too often encounter leads to strife and solidarity leads to silos. Imagine if we could use encounter to mean open dialogue and solidarity to mean worthwhile dialogue.
The Pope has it right and so did William:
"It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves." -- William Shakespeare
Let me end with a movie clip I have used before, but one that I think best illustrates the dichotomy of technology and development -- what sustains can also kill. Only we can make the dichotomy work.
What do you think?