Evgeny Morozov writes a fascinating blog about the internet and democracy on Foreign Policy.
His latest essay for the magazine is a moving article that in many ways confirms the thesis of my book, The Blogging Revolution, namely that the web doesn’t on its own bring democracy but can undoubtedly radically re-shape global access to information:
The world’s next great thinkers may well be just as brilliant as the ones on this list, but they’re likely to come to our notice in very different ways. Take William Kamkwamba, a 22-year-old from Malawi who already exemplifies a new generation of global leaders. A few years ago, he came upon an illustration of a windmill in an old textbook in a language (English) he barely understood and built one for his family so their house could have electricity. Soon he was thinking of ways to mass-produce his invention for distribution as ready-made kits.
Twenty years ago, Kamkwamba’s story might have stayed local. But instead he had the fortune of colliding with today’s Web-enabled global structure of intellectual intermediaries. In 2006, an innovation-focused blog called Hacktivate stumbled upon a write-up about Kamkwamba’s windmill in a Malawian newspaper. It took only a few months for a network of global thinkers and entrepreneurs called TED (full disclosure: I am a TED fellow) to pick up the story. In 2007, Kamkwamba spoke at a TED conference in Tanzania, where he mingled with Bono and Jane Goodall, and in 2009 he cowrote a best-selling book about his experience called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.
Will Kamkwamba be the next Sergey Brin? We don’t know yet. But his story suggests just how dramatically the Internet era has transformed the very process of becoming a global thinker — that is, the process of learning to get smart and heard at the same time — and how much those changes are for the better.