Thursday, June 21, 2012 | 8:57 AM
Our second Big Tent of the week took place in Tel Aviv, where we delved into the impact of the Internet on democracy, civil society and education. Large public protests, sparked by online social networks and similar in some ways to the protests sweeping the Arab world, have swept over Israel.
By enabling each of us to express ourselves, and reach a national and global audience, participants agreed that the Internet allows new voices to influence the political process. Israel’s Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar invoked the philosopher John Stuart Mill to describe how the net is providing the means for a move from representative to direct democracy. This bottom-up revolution, he said, poses a challenge for politicians and the media who were previously the gatekeepers of information.
Our Big Tents aim to voice diverse views, and we certainly heard a wide range of opinions in Israel. Representatives from politics, traditional and new media posed powerful questions. Do extreme and violent voices dominate the online debate? Is traditional media more scared than leading in the face of the online challenge? Why did the Arab Spring not deliver a single new democracy?
Journalist Ilana Dayan put those points and more to our Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who was making his first visit to Israel following a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. While he accepted it’s impossible to predict exactly the impact the internet will have on society, he described villages he had visited which - with the advent of smart mobile devices - have gone from having access to no information to all the world’s information. That, he said, must mean a better future.
The Big Tent rolls on, next stop is a beach on the south of France where we’ll be debating innovation and creativity at the Cannes Lions Festival. You can view all previous debates on our Big Tent YouTube channel.