Irish Examiner view: Internet must work to benefit all

It is unlikely that any Kremlin decision-makers — if there are more than one — will filter their work through what might be called The Lenin Perspective.
Irish Examiner view: Internet must work to benefit all
Examiner view: We are fighting Covid-19 through the internet. Picture: Stock
Examiner view: We are fighting Covid-19 through the internet. Picture: Stock

It is unlikely that any Kremlin decision-makers — if there are more than one — will filter their work through what might be called The Lenin Perspective.

That revolutionary’s views are not as influential as before, even in the huge country he remade.

Humans, as we always do, have adapted the “isms” to maximise the benefits they might bestow on the “ists”. Profit usurps principle even in Moscow.

Nevertheless, some of Lenin’s observations still ring true. He once said there are decades when nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen.

When the commissions of inquiry into how the world coped with the pandemic — there will be many— open they will know that the first pandemic of the digital age is/was like no other.

All earlier pandemics were fought with one drug or another but we are fighting — and will continue to fight — Covid-19 through the internet.

Those commissions, if they are to be worthwhile, will accept that centuries can sometimes happen in months. Just as they have this year.

A tool that, heretofore, was changing our world now underpins it.

It underpins our stability and our capacity to communicate in a way that we may not yet grasp it fully. Neither can we manage much less control it.

We can only hope that its evolution will be positive but we can’t be sure. After all, that optimism mirrors how millions upon millions once invested hopes in communism.

They were disappointed as are today’s millions upon millions of forgotten people struggling to sustain even a modest standard of living while the benefits of capitalism are increasingly concentrated.

Just as there is a mismatch between nation states, especially smaller ones like this, and today’s transnational corporations on taxation and environmental protection, there is a mismatch between those states and today’s tech giants.

There is a different, more quickly applied competence in, say, Apple or Facebook, Samsung, or Microsoft. These corporations use the best engineers to achieve global ambitions.

As Amazon makes traditional retailing all but redundant, and by extension contributes to the decline of towns and cities, democracies are distracted by the day-to-day — housing, health, even government formation.

Most democracies are administered through bureaucracies not unlike those in place when Lenin died in 1924.

Enacting legislation to protect citizens can be a slow and often bitterly-contested process.

Lobbies hold sway so democratic parliaments are not always able to legislate as comprehensively or as quickly as they, or we, might like. That process has not been able to keep pace with the tech giants.

One of the subtexts of Covid-19 discussions is how the pandemic has exposed structural faults in society.

Those realisations have been met with vague expectations of empowering, improving change. However, those noble ambitions pale compared to the primary challenge highlighted by the pandemic — who owns, who controls, and who benefits from the internet?

In a fragmented, increasingly insular world can democracies find enough common purpose and trust to ensure that the internet is always a force for good?

They must because we little or no choice if something like democracy is to endure.

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