The comparison of the Great Firewall of China to the Maginot Line was particularly effective. If you recall, the Maginot Line was a behemoth of military fortification, a line spanning hundreds of kilometers, and bristling with guard towers and machine gun nests. The intent of the wall was to delay the German onslaught in the inevitable event of invasion so that the French army could mobilize and engage. This reasoning was informed by outdated thinking (just as with the Great Firewall of China), and when the Wehrmacht poured through the Ardennes Forest and side stepped the Maginot Line, the French Army was swept away along with any hopes of a free France.
When China designed their firewall, I’m sure they were operating under rules that very much made sense in a world without pervasive social media. As Shirky said, they assumed that the media that came into the country would be: in low quantities, produced by a few large organizations, arrive slowly, and largely be foreign. Essentially they were sidestepped by their own people, as social media empowered them to diffuse information rapidly and in large quantities, a relatively new privilege for common people.
And this shift from producers to consumers is fascinating, as it seems to have echoes in numerous areas of society and academia. Teachers may no longer see themselves as disseminators or knowledge, and their students as receptacles of facts. There is a movement for more conversation, more interactivity, and more production.
The importance of the internet as a revolutionary tool likely cannot be understated. Though our perspectives may be obscured by our proximity to this moment, this moment in time will likely be one of the most historically significant events of the century. The first time that the world was opened to massive collaboration and production, and the keys of machines that drive mass media and culture were taken from the hands of the few and thrown into the crowd of the layman.
I found one of his illustrations of the importance of the internet particularly apt. When he compares it to being given a printing press if you were to buy a book, or being given a transmitter if you bought a radio. This is extremely exciting to me because of the massive creative and collaborative potential that will result of this internet revolution.
And one of the most striking examples of this shift from consumers or producers is the idea that citizens are now informing news stations. Think about that. The “news” is steadily slipping into the quicksand of antiquity because of the limitations of the format. While on the ground, amateur photographers and reporters are delivering instantaneous updates and video feed.
Amazing times we live in.