What exactly is a public intellectual?
I've come across a couple of articles discussing related issues.
The first article Is Google Making Us Stupid by Nicolas Carr writing in the Atlantic.com
One of the suggestion is that ICT is changing the way we read and think and may be changing our neurological structure. The article relates some very interesting illustrations of the effect of new technologies on intellectual practices in the past from Socrates to Nietzsche. It was interesting to read the research referenced in the article that the human brain retains it's plasticity throughout life. Phewf!!...little reason to worry that the Internet is wrecking my brain.
This article Who is a Public Intellectual? from the New York Times by Daniel Drezner tries to add some dimensions to the concept. He addresses in part the availability of the Internet as a channel for communication of ideas.
[T]he growth of online publication venues has stimulated rather than retarded the quality and diversity of public intellectuals.
In both articles it appears the the new affordances of the Internet are clearly becoming an increasingly important part of what it means to be a public intellectual. Ideas are more broadly disseminated, there is far greater opportunity for reflective dialog, and the development of collective intelligence is enhanced.
This is a critical topic especially if we consider ourselves public intellectuals. I find one of the worst and most insidious forms of censorship is self-censorship out of fear. As you ask.." What are we afraid of...?
Thankfully we have the examples of people like Illich and Freire who knew that they were publishing ideas that might be challenging and unpopular but had the courage and persistence to keep saying what they thought.
Whether ideas are in a published book, an academic journal or an online forum, ideas are public. If I try to limit public access to my thoughts and ideas because I have an expectation of profit from my work, that is one thing and we can have that discussion elsewhere.
If I stifle my contribution for fear of what somebody 'might' do with my words or how somebody 'might' misinterpret my ideas, I have erected a system censorship far more crippling than the DHS or the Chinese government could ever envision.