As we come to understand that our interactions with each other will continue to be primarily “virtual” for many months ahead, I find myself returning to the idea that friendship and empathy fueled the start and the success of the early Internet. I recently had the privilege of addressing the World Summit on the Information Society, where I emphasized that the future of the Internet must follow a similar path, with leaders prioritizing equity and “do no harm” policies in their shaping and design of new and old systems.
Some have called this time of COVID-19 our “World Wide Pause.” For some of us — especially in the United States, Russia, India, and Brazil, where cases continue to rise — the pause is lasting longer than we could have imagined, while our friends in New Zealand, China, and many in the European Union cautiously reopen.
In the midst of these unique circumstances, we joined the world in marking the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, which was signed in San Francisco on June 26th, 1945. The preamble to the UN charter establishes what can still, to this day, be rightly called one of the most ambitious visions for the world on behalf of “We the Peoples of the United Nations.” Of course, the signatories could hardly have imagined a time when half the world would be digitally connected with the ability to instantly share experiences and information, or the challenges that would bring.
As June begins, the world is still in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic. The toll of human lives lost and families forever changed continues to climb. The Internet has helped our societies stay connected and continue to function as we limit physical interactions to prevent further spread of novel coronavirus. It has also facilitated the spread of a shocking video illustrating the continued proliferation of another deadly disease in America: racism and systemic indifference to black suffering. At this writing, the streets of U.S. cities are literally aflame and platforms amplify cries for justice and peace.