Sunday, April 26, 2015

Everyone has an Angel and Devil in Them

Last week I had (what I thought was) the rare privilege to have a conversation with Jimmy Wales, the reluctant-to-admit-so co-founder of Wikipedia.

It was all a part of the #NetNeutrality campaign to save the Internet. I built a Firefox add-on called Zero Internet which would simulate what happens to a poor mother of three (who can't afford a data-pack) when she visits the "Internet" through Internet.org.

I submitted it to reddit, and for a few hours, it was the top post on r/india (which, to be honest, has been the rendezvous for sane Indian Internet users, and would have upvoted even if Deepika Padukone supported Net Neutrality).



Surprisingly, Jimmy Wales responded (with harsh criticism), both on twitter and on reddit, as if he was personally leading Internet.org. He said:

"This is deeply dishonest and makes me think you haven't even done the most basic homework as to how this works.

In all cases, people who are using Internet.org are on data plans (often daily plans or plans with quite restrictive data caps). One reason Facebook has been successful at getting ISPs to go along with this is that it is viewed as a win/win by the carriers - it gets people online and using data.

For the very poor, if they can't even afford a daily plan, then they don't look at the Internet at all. At least this way they have something. For those who are a bit less poor, the program offers them a way to save money on data - they can look at some sites for free (like Wikipedia) and use their precious data for other things.

Your plugin gives a completely false impression."
...which is quite contrary to what Mark Zuckerberg is making people believe (He says Internet.org is about bringing Internet access to those who do not have it yet) and also calling my add-on dishonest was dishonest. For poor people who can't afford data plans, going out of the sites allowed by Internet.org is impossible. And that's exactly what my add-on does.

So, on twitter, I went on a couple of rounds of arguments over the issue. And it turns out Jimmy Wales really, truly believes that Internet.org is the only way for poor people in India to access Internet.

Afterwards, Pirate Praveen helped me understand why I was feeling awkward.

"the problem is with your expectation. We want angels and devils so we don’t have to think. But everyone has both these aspects in them. Just because someone does a lot of good is not a reason to support them when they do something wrong. Attacking someone who is in opposing camp is easy. But standing up to someone in your own group needs immense courage and conviction. Every privilleged person thinks its their god given mission to help the poor and show their kindness. They do not want to acknowledge that their privillege is the result of historic oppression and they are part of the reason why they remain poor. They think poor people needs charity and kindness. What we really need is a conscious collective effort to end systematic oppression of people and that will need questioning of our own roles and privilleges. Accepting our role in creating the poor is much harder than feeling good about helping poor."
In fact, I now have a tagline for Wikipedia (which I would have never thought about till last week)
"Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to *some* of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing."
NB: Jimmy Wales is an Objectivist. His life philosophy is based on that. And therefore any comment on where Objectivism gets it wrong is appreciated.

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