Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Google, China, Innovation and Western Corporations

James Fallows has some terrific posts on the Google-China issue.  One has a comment from a reader that gives a remarkable perspective on the history of innovation. I hope they don't mind me sharing it.

"Analogously, in the information revolution following the introduction of the printing press, censorship in Catholic countries (especially Spain) had a similar "non-effect" initially because there was an active black market in banned books. However, in less than 50 years, in the Protestant countries, where the press was not controlled, people of the crafts-producing class were able to become literate and change the way they produced goods. Over time this new way of producing goods became capitalism.

"In Spain, Italy, Portugal and to lesser extent France people of the crafts-producing class did not become literate. They continued producing goods in the same way as they had in the past. Soon they were out competed by Holland and then England where better goods were produced more cheaply. Over time this had a profound economic impact on the wealth and power of the various countries.

"Innovation by the "out group" based on access to the benefits of the new information technology that creates new sources of wealth and power. I would conclude, therefore, that China, having made Spain's decision to control information, is now out of the running for world leadership."

My question is this.  What do Western corporations think they are doing when they impose China-like restrictions on their employees? They are killing the use of information technology and innovation.  The corporate firewall is an effective form of deathwish. Will they learn from the Google  fight with China? What fight?

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