Technologies of Unrest

Anybody who’s paying attention will note that these are unsettled times, from the Arab spring, to youth demonstrations in Spain, Israel, and now Occupy Wallstreet. Via Kevin Kelly who cites the New York Times:

Yonatan Levi, 26, called the tent cities that sprang up in Israel “a beautiful anarchy.” There were leaderless discussion circles like Internet chat rooms, governed, he said, by “emoticon” hand gestures like crossed forearms to signal disagreement with the latest speaker, hands held up and wiggling in the air for agreement — the same hand signs used in public assemblies in Spain. There were free lessons and food, based on the Internet conviction that everything should be available without charge.

Now, youth protests movements and this kind of radically egalitarian anti-capitalism aren’t exactly new.  These themes can be traced back through the 60s counter-culture, early 20th century Anarchists like Kropotkin and Emma Goldman, the French Revolution, a bunch of 16th century Christian heresies that were bloodily crushed and on and on.

What’s interesting is that the protesters are turning to explicitly technological metaphors for how their movement operates. These are the first generation of digital natives, and they don’t much like how the “real world” works.  But instead of retreating to their bedrooms and laptops, they’re colonizing  physical reality with internet interactions.

((Not that the internet is necessarily good: maybe it’s turning us into selfish assholes.))

1 Comment

  1. I think it’s both, making social media a good example of a technology that’s “not good nor bad, nor is it neutral.”

    Just as a good swathe of the world is discovering the wonders of republican forms of government, the consensus in favor of them is swiftly unraveling – or at least getting mighty threadbare – in much of the First World. We’re tiredly welcoming our panoptic overlords with the same tools that democratic activists are using to overthrow their old-school tyrants.

    It’s interesting to watch social media at play in our own unrests: #OccupyWallStreet would be an ongoing non-event were it left to mainstream media, and Twitter definitely shaped the Spring’s protests at the Wisconsin Capitol.

    As with economic development, with political development the first steps are, if not easy, clear. It’s once later generations shed the yeoman virtues of the founders that freely-chosen tyranny becomes a real option.

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