Connectivity is the intellectual lubricant of our time. And today, more than at any other point in human history, we are all connected—with each other, with our leaders and followers, with our friends, relatives, and even strangers—for better or, all too often, for worse. Connectivity has sparked revolutions, cured disease and famine, and led to more advances in a shorter period of time than any previous point in history. Of course, today’s social media frenzy is not the first such effort. Connectivity and its media enablers began with Alexander Graham Bell and his telephone, or even earlier with Samuel Morse and his telegraph, followed by Guglielmo Marconi and his radio. But each incremental advance, down to today’s revolutionary connectivity is all part of a fundamental urge of the human species—to communicate, to connect. That’s what we set out to explore in the Fall issue of World Policy Journal.
Social media and smartphones, mankind’s newest means of communication and activism, have often served as agents of change for both good and ill. World Policy Journal asked its panel of global experts—from Chile to Thailand to Ukraine—how these new networks and those who use them have disrupted daily life in their parts of the world.
As the Ebola virus spreads across Western Africa, World Policy Journal explores the role of social media in tracking epidemics. At the very moment social media has become a universal means of communication, these reports portray the limitations of relying on Twitter and Facebook as definitive sources of global health data.
Rebecca MacKinnon, director of the Digital Rights project at the New America Foundation, explores the disturbing response by governments around the world when digital connectivity between ordinary citizens threatens their hold on power, indeed their very existence.
To thwart government efforts to isolate their people from the outside world, individuals have developed alternative social media. World Policy Journal has identified six alternative social media sites that are engaging locals on a daily basis.
Chinese Internet companies are going global, but many fear these digital companies are merely an extension of communist propaganda and media manipulation. Jason Q. Ng argues that if Chinese companies what a share in the global marketplace, they need to produce outstanding products, with a transparent censorship strategy that would increase their credibility worldwide.
Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks rarely mention the targeting of Canadians, who, for geographic and historical reasons have routinely been the focus of the mass U.S. government surveillance. To date, because of its proximity, Canada has relied heavily on the United States for its Internet infrastructure. Canadians’ communications, often routed through the United States, have left its citizens open to direct and routine NSA monitoring. Toronto researcher Andrew Clement explores the costs if Canada fails to remove itself entirely from its dependency on America’s Internet infrastructure, and the impact on its citizens if it does not.
Political activist Mahmoud Salem, who tweets under the name “sandmonkey,” shares how the introduction of social media into Egyptian culture sparked the Egyptian revolution where he played a seminal social media role. At the same time, these same tools now jeopardize the creation of any political infrastructure capable of governing effectively.
Swedish Pirate Party leader Amelia Andersdotter, once European Parliament leader of the Pirates, believes the Internet and its systems of control disempower the public, while strengthening the controls of corporate leaders. She argues for Internet freedom and transparency, as well as the reduction of copyright rules—further encouraging a free and open Internet in a genuine democratic space.
In this issue, we are delighted to welcome Eliza Griswold as our first ever poet in residence. Griswold is an extraordinary talent and National Magazine Award winner, whose unique vision of the world will illuminate our every issue. In her poem “Boom,” Griswold vividly captures a scene recently witnessed in an area of conflict.
The Kachin Independence Army, defending a religious minority of devout Christians in Buddhist Burma, has bulked up its military forces in the face of increased violence against civilians, torture, and pillaging of properties by Burmese government troops. University students, women, and children have joined the resistance. Photographer Diana Markosian and writer Tyler Stiem explore this complex militarized reality in pictures and words.
Nomads in Mali, who often inform the local military of jihadist movements, are effectively restraining the expansion of terrorist organizations around North Africa, while at the same time furnishing recruits. Nicholas Jubber, who’s lived among them, describes the challenges nomads are facing to survive, and the powerful cultural and climatic forces that are driving the most desperate to jihad. Jubber recommends empowering the nomads through micro-financing projects, which address some of their most basic survival needs.
In these fast-changing and dangerous times, Germany must take a leading role in Europe and abroad to assure the security and prosperity of an increasingly fragmented and frightened continent. General Armin Staigis delves into Germany’s policies and values, as well as its regional and international role, to examine what has been done and what steps must be taken to assume a more active leadership position on the world stage.
Trapped between paramilitary and guerrilla violence in Colombia, Dona Pastora is forced to do the impossible—forgive her childrens’ murderers. Jake Rollow describes how Pastora’s ability to move past six decades of mayhem can set an example for those involved in the current Colombian peace negotiations, and for any other country gripped by violence and conflict.
The barrier dividing Bethlehem from Jerusalem, built to keep in place the Oslo Accords, dates back to 1995. The living impact of this barrier is significant, as the most militarized checkpoints become covered with art. Rebecca Gould traces the contours of the relationship between commuters and the barrier—invoking sumud, literally meaning steadfastness, but more colloquially the impulse to resist a concrete art of existence.
The abandonment of the Zimbabwean dollar in February 2009 and the introduction of the U.S. dollar may have saved Zimbabwe from an economic meltdown, but the loss of their own currency has all but defeated the proud Zimbabwean people. Tafadwza Chigumira discusses how a most educated and ambitious southern African country has now reached a point of such despair, and the need to restore Zimbabwe’s currency, and in the end, the identity it represents.
The shift from Cold War communism to modern-day capitalism across Europe has created tensions across many nations—sending vast stretches of the continent spiraling toward the far right, while building nostalgia for a communist ear seen today through rosy hindsight. While the gap between rich and poor has widened dramatically, the boundaries defining left and right have grown increasingly invisible. World Policy Journal editor David A. Andelman examines the implications behind physical and political boundaries, assessing the factors that pull European nations apart—yet ultimately should hold them together.