Speaking Out on the Internet

What do world have leaders to say about the Internet?

October 13, 2000

What do world have leaders to say about the Internet?

Three scientists — two Americans and one Russian — were awarded the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics for developing technologies later used in personal computers and the Internet. Our new “Read My Lips” feature examines how the information technology revolution has changed society, commerce and politics.

Not everyone is, or was, quick to get on the Internet:

“I was afraid of it, because I couldn’t type.”

(Jack Welch, GE chairman, July 2000)

How could big poor countries get quick access to the internet?

“Hooking poorer parts of India into the Internet — or even just to telephones — often appears an insurmountable task, until elegant solutions such as this appear.”

(Chairman of the Indian Institute of Technology, on plans to lay communications cables along Indian railways, May 2000)

For those who are online, how is life different from how it used to be?

“The dream of the working class and my parents in the 1950s was that, if only they could buy for their children a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica, they would be good parents. It cost in the 1950s a year’s pay for a working-class family to own the Encyclopedia Britannica. Now, you can get the Encyclopedia Britannica on the Internet for just about nothing.”

(Mike Moore, director general of the World Trade Organization, April 2000)

Given the recent decline in tech stock prices, is the “Internet bubble” a thing of the past?

“It’s not a bubble. It’s more like foam. In foam, individual little bubbles burst all the time, but new ones form — and the foam doesn’t go away.”

(Kurt Andersen author of Turn of the Century, March 2000)

Are some “New Economy” business proposals out of touch with reality?

“A friend called me up the other day and talked about investing in a dot-com that sells lobsters. Internet lobsters. Where will this end? The next day he sent me a huge package of lobsters on ice. How low can you stoop?”

(Real estate mogul Donald Trump, November 1999)

Some people around the world fear that the Internet is just a tool to globalize American culture:

“Reasonable people understand the Internet is a technology platform — not some form of American imperialism.”

(Gerhard Schulmeyer, head of U.S. operations for Siemens, January 2000)

Why is the Internet very American in a way?

“The Internet is profoundly disrespectful of tradition, established order and hierarchy — and that is very American.”

(Fareed Zakaria, managing editor of Foreign Affairs, January 2000)

On the other hand …

“If the U.S. government had tried to come up with a scheme to spread its brand of capitalism and its emphasis on political liberalism around the world, it couldn’t have invented a better model than the Internet.”

(Don Heath, president of the Internet Society, January 2000)

Why are business people keen on Internet opportunities in China?

“China needs the Internet more than any other country in the world.”

(Peter Yip, chief executive of China.com, April 2000)

Finally, a word of inspiration …

“In 1989, I was in Tiananmen Square. We failed then. The Internet won’t fail.”

(Chinese democracy advocate, February 2000)

… and a word of warning:

“Capitalism is many things, but charity it isn’t. It’s about profits, not philanthropy. Here lies the puzzling contradiction of the Internet.”

(Bob Samuelson, Washington Post columnist, July 2000)