Noam Chomsky is a political writer and professor of linguistics at MIT
Interviewed by Hamish Mackintosh Thursday October 17, 2002 The Guardian
When did you encounter the internet? In the early days of the military Arpanet, my daughter was studying in Nicaragua. Because the US was essentially at war with them, contact was difficult. I managed to use MIT’s Arpanet connection and she found one, so we could communicate thanks to the Pentagon!
Has the net become more marketplace than information resource? There are massive efforts on the part of the internet’s corporate owners to try to direct it to become a technique of marginalisation and control. Media analyst Norman Solomon did a study of references to the net. Pre-95 it was mostly referred to as an “information superhighway”: post-95 it was “free shopping”. The effort is to direct people towards commerce or diversions such as pornography.
However, the global justice movements – referred to as “anti-globalisation” movements – have used the internet very effectively to get around the fact that their views are not permitted in the major media. Things such as the World Social Forum are primarily organised through the net.
Are you involved with MIT’s OCW project? OpenCourseWare offers people who can’t attend elite universities the chance to study the curriculum online for free. As a research tool, the internet is invaluable.
What are the pros and cons of the information age? We should be modest about it. The major advances in speed of communication and ability to interact took place more than a century ago. The shift from sailing ships to telegraph was far more radical than that from telephone to email! The internet could be a very positive step towards education, organisation and participation in a meaningful society. But if you look at the latest figures for internet use, things such as pornography and e-shopping overwhelm everything else.
Will the virus soon be mightier than the sword? That is a serious problem, as is spamming. There are concentrated efforts to try to shut down critical voices, particularly with the Israel/Palestine issue. Everyone who is critical of Israeli policy is deluged by crazed messages intended to flood their email system or, more insidiously, passwords are accessed and messages sent out under their name! I’m sure it’s illegal. It’s also an effort to undermine free speech.
Do you encrypt? I stay transparent. When I was organising resistance against the government I was open – that’s the best protection. Somebody will be able to overcome any encryption technique you use! Our only weapons are truth, honesty and openness.
Favourite websites? I rarely have the time. I sometimes visit ZNet and FAIR.
Visit: www.zmag.org/chomsky and www.understandingpower.com