Optical/IP Networks

Eric Schmidt's Sunny World

2:00 AM -- I agree with Eric Schmidt that bringing bandwidth to the world is a good thing. I just wonder about the shiny utopian vision he paints.

Schmidt, executive chairman of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), took the stage at Mobile World Congress 2012 Tuesday night, Barcelona time, speaking at the show for the third year running. I watched over coffee at home for the second year running.

Schmidt used his keynote this time to play futurist, as he sometimes did during his days at Sun Microsystems. (See G-Man Speaks.)

His message was that it's important to get emerging countries connected -- just connected, in any way. Human creativity will do the rest.

"If you get the access right, the citizens, which are very creative, will get the rest done," he said during a long question-and-answer session after his talk.

That, I agree with. And the results will be positive -- he used literacy improvements and the Arab Spring as examples. What I wonder about, though, is the developed world, as more of our lives move online.

Since the '90s, I have believed that people will use the Internet to wall themselves off from other points of view. That's the benefit, and the danger, of being able to pick your community, and it fosters a very "us vs. them" mindset that I think is becoming more pervasive in the United States.

Just look at politics, at the childish Congressional battles where it's become more important to disagree with the other side than to actually get anything done. They're mirroring the attitudes of their constituents.

That's what you can expect from a world where you never have to truly cope with different points of view, where you're never forced to coexist constructively with people who aren't in your tribe. Despite all the great things the Internet can enable, I think a lot of people will use it as a tool to restrict their own knowledge rather than expand it. It's a place to hide.

Hopefully, it won't be a majority who do this. And it's no reason to stop using the Internet. I'm just saying Schmidt's optimism has its blind spots. It will take some wariness to ensure that technology always equates to forward progress.

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

COMMENTS Add Comment
rahat.hussain 12/5/2012 | 5:41:08 PM
re: Eric Schmidt's Sunny World


very thoughtful. hits the nail on the head.

we have created virtual gated communities that separate the haves from the have-nots. politicians have decided that "compromise" is a bad word 'cos it makes them look weak.

only advantage of connectivity though is that lies are exposed faster, politicians who pander to an extreme wing of a party will find it harder to tilt to the center when convenient, and hopefully, one day, all the superpac $$ spent on tv ads will simply become noise and not influence the outcome of elections.

odo <-- who wants to hope for a better tomorrow!

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 5:41:05 PM
re: Eric Schmidt's Sunny World

Equating what's possible with the Internet with our dysfunctional Congress is a step too far, I think. 

But how exactly have people been making their world smaller when one of the easiest things to do on the Internet is connect with others who have like interests? If I suddenly start corresponding with Russian photographers whose work I admire, am I narrowing my world by JUST talking to photographers? Or am I broadening it by connecting with other cultures over a common interest?


Flook 12/5/2012 | 5:41:02 PM
re: Eric Schmidt's Sunny World

I would hazard that quite a few (majority?) of members of our  dysfunctional Congress are Internet illiterate.

I also think that both Eric Schmidt and Craig are right: I can't imagine any country advancing in the modern world without the Internet, but it's up to users whether they take advantage of the Internet to expand their horizons or stay within the comfort zone of their tribe.

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:40:48 PM
re: Eric Schmidt's Sunny World

Flook - You're right about your second point, of course. Just as people had to be trained to separate reality from fiction on TV, they'll have to learn how best to use the Internet.

I do think Schmidt's central point is a good one: That it's important to get the third world connected, just plain connected. The digital divide will worsen at first, in terms of absolute numbers (gigabit fiber vs. megabits on a feature phone) but you have to get the process started by providing the connectivity.

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:40:48 PM
re: Eric Schmidt's Sunny World

Phil - I'm not talking about hobbies. I'm talking about people with radical political points of view -- the kind that normally shrink in the light of, you know, reality.  You can surround yourself with like-minded people to the point of drowning out any tempering voices. People have always done this, usually by physically moving to remote areas. With the Internet, I think it's easier. I hope I'm wrong.

Regarding Congress -- certainly there's a lot more going on, including the advancements in gaming the media and prodding voters to vote (i.e., everyone's learned that being negative tends to work.)  But I think you've also got constituents who now more strongly believe their position is objectively "right" -- you can use the Internet to "prove" anything, after all -- and see no reason for compromise. I don't see that getting any better.

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:40:48 PM
re: Eric Schmidt's Sunny World

Thanks Odo. (Sorry - it's been a busy week and I'm just now getting back to this thread.)

Yeah, good point about the speed of connectivity. It can wash out an untruth pretty well. But it can also cement an untruth in people's minds hard and fast, if they decide they want to believe it.

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