Chat Apps don’t just destabilize business models, they ruffle governments

All this chatting is taking us somewhere, right?

Ever since I stumbled on Chat Apps, and discussed it toward the end of my book, I knew that this thing curiously called Over The Top applications (or OTT), could tempt some to see us, chattering masses, as instruments of mass disruption.

I was bemused to hear that the Vietnam government is trying to reign in the OTT business.  Wassup Mr. Nguyen Tan Dung? Worried about the revenue loss of telecoms or worried that the hoi polloi will be talking on their own terms.

Governments famously refuse to engage citizens, while pretending to call their system a participatory democracy. Some have suggested that the Internet disconnects as much as it engages people from public life. I was reminded of my conversation in April with Indi Samarajiva (on ‘Machine Readable Democracy’) when I saw this discussion.

It’s a tantalizing question. Could a participatory democracy be nurtured? Or should it be left to evolve organically?  Or as Jos Zepps puts it, could we build a digitized, engaged democracy from scratch?

2011 dominated by people rather than technology

It’s impossible to overstate how tumultuous a year 2011 has been.

Every year we seem to think that we have been shaken, twisted around, rudely awakened. Usually it’s about technology. But usually it’s about some life-changing technology, or a new ways of doing things. Refreshingly, this year there was a large human dimension to it, some of which I covered here on this blog.

It was as if we were looking through a camera and switching between two filters:  Pro-democracy and Anti-terrorism. But we also saw a share of media events, some even about the media!

  • The people’s revolutions in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Russia, Libya…
  • In a surprising move, the US captured and killed of Osama Bin Laden — ten years after he declared war on the US.
  • Then there was Occupy Wall Street, a movement pooh-poohed by many but seemed to catch on, franchise-like, sprouting  arms, posters, and megaphones…
  • The shooting (and amazing recovery) of congresswoman Gabby Giffords dominated the early part of the year. At least here in Arizona.
  • The media scandal in the UK rocking Rupert Murdock’s empire.
  • The Kate and William extravaganza in the media -a.k.a. the royal wedding.
  • The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan in April.
  • The passing away of Steve Jobs –perhaps slightly exaggerated as an ‘event’ (even on this blog!) But it made us consider how one man could have impacted so many.
  • Aung Su Kyi returned to the political arena, registering to run in upcoming elections

Be careful what you wish for

The son of Moammar Qaddafi had this to say about the rising tide of democracy:

“The whole world is going through more freedom, more democracy,” he says, pumping the air in impatience. “We want to see those changes now, instead of 10 years’ time, or 15 years.”

It was very heartening to hear this, especially from the son of a dictator.

But there was one problem. He gushed about democracy before the people of his country took to the streets demanding reform –in a statement to Time magazine, last year! Like all sons of dictators, he was tipped to be the next leader, and (armed with a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics,) seemed like the kind of person the world could work with. Until he said this, this week.

“Libya is at a crossroads. If we do not agree today on reforms, we will not be mourning 84 people, but thousands of deaths, and rivers of blood will run through Libya.”

He wished for, and predicted, change. His Ph.D. Thesis talks of a ‘democracy deficit.’ But he probably never foresaw the rivers of connectivity between his people that would make that happen.

Be careful what you wish for!