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April 15, 2010

Getting Used to Unintended Consequences
Posted by Patrick Barry

Panelist Jared Cohen commented on the intersection of policy and technology just a few minutes ago: 'The 21st Century is a terrible time to be a control freak.' That may sound funny, but it really is true.  What he meant was that the realities of innovation make it nearly impossible for anyone to anticipate how technological measures taken by either the U.S. government or the private sector will reverberate in a country like Iran.  It may be a cliche to say so, but Twitter is an excellent illustration of this principle.  It's fair to say that before the instability that followed the Iranian elections last year, no one really anticipated how members of the Green Movement would utilize that technological instrument to further their agenda.  What the U.S. can do, is try to shape the technological playing field to advance its interests or the cause of human rights, as it did when it pressured Twitter to refrain from resetting its servers, thus allowing Iranians to make use of technology, albeit in ways that might not have been anticipated. 


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