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on May 1, 2013
This book's title is obviously a play on words and echoes Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion." I don't exactly mind the fact that this author is so long-winded because his prose is very easy to follow. He does overstate his case a bit, but what I come away with is:

1. New terms. Internet-centrism (don't try to reinterpret every single problem in terms of how it can be solved by the internet) and cyber-utopianism (don't imagine that the internet will lead to every single perfect outcome just because you think it will). Samizdat? (I'd never heard of that word before. But it is in the Oxford Dictionary.)

2. The use of the internet as a tool can go both ways. So, interest groups can learn to organize with it. But whatever government that happens to be in power in whatever place can also learn to use that tool in its own service.

3. McDonald's is a quintessentially American invention and it is everywhere. And no one sees it as such because the State Department of the US government does not make any connections or try to use it as a tool. The internet is the same way, and it was neutral at some point....but companies that provide internet services can be seen as an instrument of subversion if the State Department tries to enlist their services on its behalf. (Ever wondered why Twitter and Youtube are blocked in China? You don't need to wonder anymore after reading the first chapter of this book.)

4. The Iranian "Revolution" was completely fictional. Or, the presentation of it was the composite of a lot of wishful thinking.

There is a lot of what we (this reader) already knew:

1. There are a lot of unintended consequences to any policy. And this could be deduced from the unintended consequences of a lot of things that have already gone down (that the author detailed) and that we might expect (because no two countries are quite the same);

2. Most of the policymakers in the United States ("The West") don't really know what they are doing and are very likely guilty of over optimism.

3. Basically policymakers don't know what they are doing and act on flawed models. One of the concepts that he introduced was the difference between "wicked" and "tame" problems. But I feel that the issue of decision making was covered much better in Thomas Sowell's Knowledge And Decisions

4. It is not appropriate to treat political problems (with political constraints and incentives) as internet problems. We already knew that.

There is some subtle discussion of the epistemic perspectives on populaces under authoritarian government. What Morozov gives is a Huxley-Orwell axis. On one end, the population is strangled by consumerism and popular goods. And on the other, it is strangled by an invasive bureaucracy that is reading mail and tapping phone calls. Our writers shows that this is likely to be a false dichotomy and that some elements of both can be mixed. A regime can keep people so busy watching TV that they don't have time to know what is going on (and I have witnessed this) but then censor the internet and block blogs that might distract them from watching TV.

I'd say that this book could be taken out in about 3 afternoons (100 pages each). Or, for a more leisurely pace it should not take more than 6 afternoons of reading time. There are quite a few concepts in here, and the way that the author organized them needed some help. On one hand, some of the concepts were organized in bite sized pieces that took about 15 minutes to read. But on the other hand, he kept repeating the same overarching concepts AGAIN AND AGAIN within the sub-chapters. The chapters averaged about 35 pages each.
Verdict: If the book was 225 pages, I could say that it would have been worth the reading time. But this author just waffled on way too long repeating the same things OVER AND OVER.
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on February 2, 2015
A favorite subject of my reading is modern technology and how it is rapidly changing everything about human society. Not least among our tech products is the net in the book title. There is much about contemporary technology tending to delude us with views of a future more optimistic than may be warranted. Contrariwise it is clear is the net is not 'the' solution so much as a very complex tool for human interaction. I hope that is not entirely true because I can know, in detail, how it affects my life and how I am planning on such help in future. Nonetheless in the long term technologists seem unwilling to consider all effects and affects of tech. (My first encounter with 'webs' was the 1950's. At that time experience was with 'webs' created for, and restricted to specific objectives (i.e. SAGE and Arpanet both rudimentary webs by comparison). Nothing better illustrates absence of tech forethought than intensity with which we use and are seduced by web convenience. Now a very general tool. Morozov brilliantly looks at both sides of web use - the productive and the destructive as well as a source of pointless distraction, maybe its worse feature. So far we have clearly learned how it can put all of us in touch with each other for all benefits that provides. But this positive has disadvantages Morosov discusses in detail. For example, that the web enabled popular criticism of Iran government policy also created a government tool for tracking sources of criticism to be dealt with severely, and apparently was. Making everyone's thoughts and personal data readily available leaves each of us open to contact without our consent let alone easily personally devastating. Personal security is a largest loss coming with web tech through social media. There is no security of personal identity information if a 'keylogger' happens to be lurking in web space awaiting a chance to be mischievous or malicious. Potential magnitude of impact from this sort of use is extremely large. Everyone has read about how MILLIONS of credit cards, with their personal information, have been stolen from Target, Home Depot, etc. Petty web theft? Morozov makes the point we should not, as we are, correct tech problems with more tech. Solutions used to government censorship are to create a tech correction circumventing it. The author uses North Korea as an example. In this case the solution chosen was to circumvent that government's attacks through the WWW without pursuing diplomatic or political leverage, i.e. tendency to use tech instead of human interaction. Using the web we may find interest or pleasure in having hundreds, in some cases millions, on our Twitter or Facebook account without the burden of knowing them 'personally'. This book makes a nice complementary use with his second book published in 2013 - "To Save Everything Click Here". The amount of detail in these two books beggars a summary. They were a surprise to me since the author is an accomplished communicator through writing but no so much through speaking.
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on March 8, 2014
Prone to pithy codas—"It's as if the Mad Men have set up an office in Beijing"—as well as name and theory dropping (presumably those who still have 24x7 Internet access will run off to look them up) but otherwise a scathing review of misplaced optimism for the Internet, and how somewhat not democratic systems can run circles around the now cold warriors of an bygone era (firewalls! in cyberspace!) by co-opting technology, embracing counterspin, and even the use of modern Western marketing techniques to better control their populace. I am reminded of the old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which Calvin offers a tepid bowl of tapioca to the television. America does no better, banning software and services to certain countries, while the other hand feeds the dissidents of said countries, who cannot use the necessary software or services because they are banned—a computer would segfault at this point; humans must make do with the facepalm. But I must run; there is a cute cat photo I really have to see. No, actually, yet more security updates to apply. Sigh.

Jeremy
Internet Plumber
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on June 15, 2014
This book will open your eyes to the fatuous marketing of Twitter_Facebook_Google and other internet tools as primary political drivers toward liberal democracy. It was written before the Snowden revelations, but the governmental use of the internet is well delineated in this book and includes the NSA internet uses as a a subset of a much broader phenomenon. There are many specific instances and anecdotes provided supporting the author's thesis and reading of a broader literature re: technological innovation enthusiastically considered in vacuo and disconnected from pre-existing power_institutional_economic_cultural structures. That the internet in all its manifestations is co-opted by these structures will come as no surprise to students of history. Mr. Morozov provides a voice of cogent, historically grounded balance to the webthusiasts, who decontextualize this technology and propose uses that, on the face of it, are admirable, but, which, in fact, are to varying degrees antithetical to their stated goals (liberal democracy via internet-provided information topple totalitarian autocracies). If you find yourself somewhat breathless with joy at how well-friended you are, if you find yourself devoting more time to social media than to understanding the world around you, read this book and reflect upon it.

The book could have benefited from in text connections to the excellent bibliography. I spent a good bit of time going back to the bibliography and reading the articles or learning more about the authors cited, which enriched the reading greatly. I expect this might have been a publisher's decision to keep things uncluttered, an important feature in a book meant to sell in large numbers. The depth of the author's scholarship is impressive and the fact that he looks at things from the perspective of someone who has experienced or observed the dark side of social media and governmental internet uses (he is from Belarus) provides a much broader scope to his analysis.
Bravo Mr. Morozov. Keep it coming!
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on September 16, 2013
Morozov explores the dark side of the net that the futurists gloss over. The picture of the net is not as rosy as some want us to believe. It really only had a small part to play in the downfall of communism (caused by economic decay), it is easy to compromise, and can be easily manipulated for illegal gain. For propaganda purposes it is just as easy for a dictator to reach a mass audience (perhaps easier) than a protest can. Viral posts can be just as dangerous in creating a lynch mob mentality as they can be effective for good. It can create an Urban myth of enormous proportions that continues to crop even after it is debunked. The net spreads rumors and myths as quickly as the truth and few spend the time to verify the validity of the information they receive. A must read.
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on December 22, 2011
A very provocative book with a cautionary message. Evgeny Morozov puts to work his own experience with post-Communist countries and with the internet to give a cold shower against "cyber-utopianism" and "internet-centrism" : the position taken, de facto or in words, by Western media and governments, that the internet will make crumble the authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in places such as China, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Belarus or Russia. Though informed by the experience of the underground press and Western radio stations transmitted to the Iron Curtain countries, Morozov argues this approach minimizes the differences in circumstances between the 1989 revolutions and the "Twitter revolutions" of today, both in the actual characteristics of the technologies and in the social, political and cultural situations of the countries involved. The book is loaded with examples to show the dangers of overconfidence in one or another aspect of the internet as it pertains to political and social change, but also as it relates to concerns that honest citizens and officials, in democratic or authoritarian countries alike, have: use of the internet for fraud, identity theft, compromising national security, or helping offline crime. The main problem with this book is that as rich as it is in precedents, it fails to deliver proposals. By insisting on the study of particular national circumstances, it justifies a lack of specific proposals to attack the issues that dissidents and activists inside or their allies outside face in the real world. In this, it turns out somewhat disappointing. However, the arguments that the internet has as many counter-democratic as democratic uses, and that the internet has to be evaluated in context and not for its own sake, are solid and well built; and policymakers and activists ignore them at their peril.
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on February 27, 2018
Good read and interesting for the times. Will recommend to a friend interested in the topic. I need to read any of his other books.
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on December 20, 2014
Morozov is right on target with his analysis of 21st century soft authoritarianism. In some ways, he's like Jaron Lanier, but more of an internationalist. Luckily, our government doesn't need to resort to massive 'net hacking yet; we have Hollywood and the left-wing Media spewing out propaganda for the sheer pleasure of it.
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The Net Delusion is powerful, and it gains power as it rolls through its 320 pages. It took quite a while to lock me in; the first hundred pages gave me little I didn't already know. I admit I began to get fidgety, but the next couple of hundred pages gave me a ton of insight, building on what came before. The structure of it all is therefore quite impressive, as is the research. Morosov seems to have looked at essentially everything, prying a single, highly targeted quote from most sources. The result is a very inclusive and empirically supported shot at the Alice in Wonderland world of the internet as dictator-killer. The pace quickens, the momentum builds. It becomes a compelling read. Bravo, Morosov.

I particularly appreciated the view from the other side - of the ocean, of the rose-colored glasses, of the political spectrum. For example, Morosov says that as other countries develop their own social networking and search services (if only to keep track of their own potentially troublesome citizens), the Googles and Facebooks the US offers are being seen more and more as digital versions of Halliburton and Exxon. That's a perspective that should be shaking things up at Google, which portrays itself as the good guys from every conceivable angle.

Morosov wraps it up with a call for perspective - historical perspective. We will not change human nature with the internet, because nothing ever has, and the internet is just another technology that will fail to make critical changes in human nature - like telegraph, telephone, radio, and TV - which had that promise and which all failed the challenge. And without knowing and accounting for the past and the present, we have no business making naive prognostications about Twitter saving Iran - which clearly is not happening - or China suddenly rising up because of Amazon's department store on the net. It's a cold shower of important perspective. It needed to be said, and I can't imagine it being better said than it is in The Net Delusion.
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on April 10, 2015
I saw this book on a reading list and got it on Kindle to see what it was about. Morozov does a great job opening the reader's eyes to the pitfalls in thinking that the internet automatically equals freedom and democracy (he calls it "internet centrism"). However, he reveals his own bias against technology with very haughty, undocumented statements about how "technical experts" best stay in their lane and leave the big international relation problems to the real experts.

Morozov has a narrow view of the internet and its community; he only ever references Twitter and Facebook when discussing mediums that can foster democratization and bring the global community together. In other words, he completely ignores reddit, anonymous, message boards, and video game communities that bring a very diverse population together without concern for borders. Further, he really only cites the US State Department affiliates in the Bush and Obama era for why internet-centrism is a bad thing. He cites the embarrassments and hypocrisy of Clinton as Secretary of State in her application of the internet to free authoritarian societies (Iran's failed "twitter revolution") without considering if those problems had more to do with her than it does any alleged inherent flaws of a consistent, rational approach to using the internet to improve the freedom in the world. He does not give due diligence in finding out what other perspectives there are on the issue. I would have liked to see him reach out to Google, EFF, anonymous, or founders of the open source movement for comment.

Morozov argues that "Facebook causes" and tweets in support of awareness are actually hurting causes more than helping them by giving the west a way to feel less guilty without actually doing anything. However, there is more to the internet than just a Facebook Like. He compares the internet to previous advances in technology that always fell short on their claims to globalize the world: TV, the telegram, the radio, and so on. There is a lot that is wrong with the internet;but unlike these previous technologies, the internet provides a way for individuals all over the world to come together on even ground without regard for national boundaries or nationalistic biases and build strong communities that actually are willing to intervene. And unlike Facebook causes that don't actually do anything, often times these communities do mobilize into real protests when they find something they believe in (look up the anonymous documentary that shows this happen on many occasions).

I thought this quote on page 311 was a good summary Morozov's bias and poor investigation in the end of the book: "Technological experts, as clever as they may be on matters concerning technology, are rarely familiar with the complex social and political context in which the solutions they propose are to be implemented" (311).

The author then goes on to build on this claim without ever once giving support for what technical expert(s) he is referring to that, to paraphrase, is a great code monkey but should stay out of the big boy's world of real complex problems. I can only speculate that he is referring to top Google executives that are deeply involved in the political world. Yet I would argue that as executives in a corporation with headquarters (and thus interactions with governments) all over the world, a Google exec is far more qualified to weigh in on complex global issues than Morozov is.

Near the end of the book, Morozov says it is rare for an intellectual to "know a great deal about both the Internet and the rest of the world." I would say that Morozov cannot be included in this group of "rare intellectuals," for his understanding of the internet is not nearly deep enough to be critiquing it.

I will say that his outline of what he calls "internet realism" at the end is worth keeping in mind, but I disagree with his suggestion that a mature internet is one that is heavily regulated by nation-states.
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