Colloquia Review: Personal Effects of the Internet

by Dr. Herman “Butch” Hill, Cutler Scholars Director

Dr. Butch HillTiming is everything. Just as the Cutler Scholars began studying effects of the Internet on personal reputations, suddenly there were revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt—sparked at least in part by activities on the web. President Mubarak’s reputation was trashed online, while that of previously unknown Khaled Said was elevated to martyr status. Our biweekly discussions with the Templeton Scholars suddenly became less theoretical.

With Egypt’s “pulling the plug” on Internet access, we had a chance to study how important the online media is to twenty-first-century demonstrations. Pundits’ opinions differed. Some thought that social media had replaced faxes as organizational tools, while others made much of the protests’ continuing with no Internet access at all. Perhaps most intriguing was the suggestion that lack of Internet access caused the crowds to swell: Egyptians supposedly needed alternatives to Facebooking and playing World of Warcraft!

We’ve had spirited debates on whether the web benefits dictators or democratizers more, and the always provocative John Gilliom tried to convince us that there are things to love about Internet surveillance. All in all, a stimulating quarter!

I’m grateful that world events have enriched our discussions, yet I’m hopeful that current events will NOT provide such fodder next quarter, when we follow the Baker Peace Conference topic of “failed states” and their impact on world peace. The emergence of another government-less country would be bad international news, despite the educational uses of such a story.

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