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This week’s readings – Nationalism, Postnationalism and Digital Power

[Frost] Internet Galaxy Meets Postnational Constellation

Being a nation is about being on the same page. Nationalism developed, according to Benedict Anderson, in the 18th century when print media began “fostering a new sense of attachment, in this case among those who read the same newspapers, or imagined the same fictional communities through novels”. This allowed:

  1. The conception of community – a sense of attachment with people you have never met
  2. A shared worldview – a common sense of meaning of the experiences of life (with secular nationalism replacing myth and religion)
  3. A new, population-centric, mode of political engagement – replacing religious or dynastic authority
  4. A new set of social and political relations – new modes of inclusion and exclusion

And therefore, linguistic bondaries crystallized into national boundaries.

If the print media provided the landscape in the 18th century on which various historical factors crossed to develop a sense of community that what we now call nationalism, then can the new media also create “a new sense of attachment” and generate “a common political culture” that would make possible a “just” and “well ordered” post-nationalist order.

Habermas hopes it can. Because the Internet allows being on the same [web]page! “In both cases,” says Frost, “a powerful new medium arrived into an environment already experiencing shifting political, economic, and social ideals, and was adopted at an unprecedented rate.”

Note: Anderson looked at history in retrospect. The Internet is too new for us to be able to look at it that way. It is still evolving.

Why ask the question? “If we are to make responsible decisions today, we need to think about what might lie ahead”

Frost looks at the advent in the context of the four factors in community formation that she identifies above:

1- Conception of Community

“Communities exist in a symbiotic tension with identities (whether self-defined or ascriptive). Without one, it is difficult to develop the other, because there is no reference point for differentiation or affiliation.” But online interaction is either anonymous or identities are “disposable”. There is no commitment and mutual obligation. “The internet… is a site of great social flux and uncertainty.”

“In fact, anonymity not only makes the growth of new communities less likely,” believes Frost, “it can act to dismantle existing social bonds.”

Question: when anonymity and privacy are no longer the norm, how will this change?

2 – Systems of Meaning

According to Hannah Arendt, this requires:

  • a) a basis for mutual understanding, “the sharing of words and deeds”
  • b) boundaries or “stabilizing protection” to hold together this shared experiences

As “a vehicle for social or collective projects”, the Internet “can provide a basis for shared norms and meanings in those instances”, but what it “currently offers in these regards is insufficient”. Citing Lessig, Frost says “the increasing trend towards commercialization online may simply be too strong for such projects to resist”.

“It is not clear, therefore, how any new political or social solidarity associated with the Internet would manage to resolve the problem of meaning”. Any transformation to post-nationalism will require this.

Question: The newspapers and novels that laid the foundation for nationalism were also commercial. Anderson calls the phenomenon Print Capitalism. Does commercialization hinder community building or make it sustainable?

Question: Can the boundaries that hold together common experiences be drawn on a new cultural plane – e.g. Can the copy left movement or the free software movement compete with nationalism for loyalty?

3 – Political Engagement

While more people can participate in a democracy when it is “internet-enabled”, Frost thinks “what matters in democracies… is not just the volume of participation, but its quality”. In order to be the site of a new “public sphere” the internet has to:

  • a) be equally accessible for all
  • b) allow equal participation

The internet “fails the requirement for inclusivity and is “not necessarily more equal in its treatment of participants than you would find in an offline setting”.

While the Internet can “free the individual from the restrictions of ascribed identity and communal attachments” and “replace them with more voluntary associations”, these “loose constituencies of shared interest cannot lay the groundwork for the demanding task of political life”.

4 – Social Inclusiveness

Since “the internet favors loosely bounded communities characterized by loosely democratic and non-democratic social relations”, a major problem for a new social order would be of cohesion.

  • Solidarity can arise out of new innovations made possible by the new communications practices
  • The Internet can deepen the existing experience of exclusion or just enhance its awareness, thus becoming a source of new solidarities

The digital divide – the fact that some countries or demographic groups do not have as easy and efficient internet access then others – is key. “The need for expensive computing resources and telecommunications infrastructure to support the medium means that it will inevitably favor the developed and affluent populations over others”. Similarly, “the language barrier, which played such a large part in the birth of nations, is still as singificant as ever”.

But “the Internet’s capacity to heighten the experience of exclusion… represents its greatest potential for change”.

Conclusion:

“The difficulty in assessing the prospects for post-nationalism in the wake of the Internet then is not that new political forms or social ideals are unlikely to arise. The problem is that we might be looking for change in the wrong places and with the wrong expectations”.

According to Frost, “It may not be the people with the most extensive access or highest profile online who will champion deep social and political change… it is the grounds with limited access judt enough to see what they are missing out on, who may have the most to gain from pioneering new modes of social relations, meaning and engagement.”

She explains the scenario in our second reading, in a response to a chapter in Collaborative Futures titled “Solidarity” [that cites her article].

Catherine Frost’s response to Mike Linksvayer

On the post Collaborative Futures 5

“Could the collaboration mechanisms discussed in this book aid the formation of politically salient postnational solidarities?” Mike Linksvayer asks. His thesis: “If political solidarities could arise out of collaborative work and threats to it, then collaboration might alter the power relations of work.” Therefore:

  • a) Despite ease in international trade barriers, workers cannot simply move between jurisdictions for better salaries or working conditions. But an increasing share of wealth via distributed collaboration does mitigate some inequalities of the current system
  • b) When knowledge is locked in through intellectual property rights, a worker cannot afford access to it. But with the GPL license, “the means of production are handed back to the labor”, and that makes possible “a feeling of autonomy that empowers further action outside the market”.
  • c) Collaboration allows workers more autonomy in the market or the ability to stand outside it, but it also gives significant autonomy to communities outside the market. Some such communities, eg wikipedia, “are pushing new frontiers of governance” and could lead to community governance and postnational solidarities

Frost’s intention…

… was not to say that the solidarities generated by the Internet echo the nationalist solidarities of the past. Anderson had looked at the emergence of the nation state in retrospect and the same is not possible with the internet. “Consciousness very often follows real life realities”.  Her concern, she insists, “was to see whether we could learn FROM the rise of national solidarities to understand how any new orders might take form”.

One lesson she learns is that “exclusion is a powerful force for forging solidarity”. She explains this more precisely with the following scenario:

“If the global future really belongs to the developing world with huge populations of well educated people who by and large don’t relate to the glossy consumerism of the internet, then they may use this very versatile tool in their own, more innovative ways. Which leaves everyone else playing catch up. And that catch-up process shifts power subtly but consistently in a new direction.”

[Morozov & Shirky] Digital Power and its Discontents

At the time when the nation states were emerging – a time that Habermas celebrates for “cafes and newspapers” which “were on the rise all over Europe” and “a new democratized public sphere was emerging” – Kierkegaard was concerned that with so many opinions floating around, people could be made to rally behind a number of shallow causes with no strong commitment to anything. This concern is shared by Shirkey and Morozov.

In the words of Morozov, “there was nothing to die for”. Online activism, he says like Kierkegaard, “cheapens our commitment to political and social causes that matter and demand constant sacrifice”. Citing Habermas, Shirkey says that those newspapers “were best at supporting the public sphere was when freedom of speech was illegal, so that to run a newspaper was an act of public defiance”. And so, “a protest which is relatively easy to coordinate at relatively low risk” is “less of a protest”, and “draws off some of the energy that could go elsewhere.”

Discussing an example from failed flash mob protests in his home country Belarus, Morozov asserts that a virtual movement was, for those protesters, a way to avoid “the dirty and bloody business of opposing a dictator, a business that often entails harassments of all kinds, as well as bloodshed, intimidation, expulsion from universities”. “They thought they could just blog the dictatorship away.”

“Does a movement need a martyr?” asks Shirky. “Does it need an intellectual focal point that’s willing to take a hit in order to make the point? And the second question is does that have to be one person?” Morozov believes a movement does need a charismatic leader, but “my fear is that a Solzhenitsyn would not be possible in the age of Twitter.”

The discussion…

… includes the potential of the internet to provide the landscape for the emergence of this new public sphere that could make possible post-national communities, as well as how nation states are coping with this potential threat. I began with a topic that develops towards the end, only to connect the discussion to the previous readings. I have focused on the questions when they arise during the discussion, instead of re-cycling them in the end.

  • Shirkey and Morozov agree that the cyberspace is not “a separate sphere unconnected to the rest of the planet” which would transform politics in a way “the internet utopians” think it would. Citing his critique of John Perry Barlow’s 1996 text “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”, which he calls one of the seminal texts of cyber-libertarianism, Morozov says “we are currently facing a huge intellectual void with regards to the Internet’s impact on global politics”. But this “lack of a coherent framework does not really prevent us from embracing the power of the Internet”, he says, and both democratic and authoritarian governments are trying to harness the power for political purposes. A lot of the earlier theories were developed in a context that is no longer relevant however, and so, “We do need a new theory to guide us through all of this”.
  • Morozov believes the State Department should use the potential power of the Internet to promote freedom, but is critical of its alliance with Google, Twitter and other commercial organizations. “We’re promoting Internet freedom for freedom’s own good,” he says. “So the real question is how to leverage the undeniable power of these companies without presenting them as extensions of the U.S. foreign policy.”
  • “There is definitely a greater level of politicization attached to the use of Twitter, Google, and Facebook in authoritarian conditions,” he says however. “People who are now using Twitter in Iran are marked as potential enemies of the state.” Asked by Shirkey if the Iranian ban on Facebook even before the elections meant it was over-politicized, Morozov says “the fact that they blocked Facebook doesn’t mean anything” to him. “All it means is that they could block Facebook — and they did.” Citing the example of the three-day ban on texts in Cambodia in 2007, Morozov says there is a “symbolic value attached to censorship” as it helps a government “signal to the rest of the world that they are still in charge”.

But Shirkey cites the examples of Burma and Ukraine to argue that the regimes are also trying to “dampen the public sphere” by censorship because these technologies allow the citizens to better coordinate their protest movements. “Conditions under which a public that can self-identify and self-synchronize,” he says, “even among a relatively small elite, is in fact a threat to the state.”

Morozov responds by saying that the “very vibrant” online campaign of Iranian protests, did not extend into real world coordination. “There was synchronicity of online actions, I’m not sure that it translated well into coordinated protests in the streets.” Shirkey said one way the coordination manifested itself on the streets was through the participation of women. But Morozov points out that Iranian women had been using social media for a decade, and therefore “most social media activity is just epiphenomenal: it happens because everyone has a mobile phone”. The Iranian government, he says, was brutal despite the social media hype.

Shirkey says his focus is on the coordination made possible between otherwise uncoordinated groups, but they can’t be as organized as hierarchically-managed groups. He agrees that such political engagement can make the regimes even more brutal rather than being more tolerant towards change.

Other similar questions, according to Morozov, include Whether it is “making people more receptive to nationalism” or if it could drive them away from “meaningful engagement in politics” by promoting certain hedonism-based ideologies? Or whether it could empower certain non-state entities that might not be “conducive to freedom and democracy?” – in short -  Who will get empowered by these better coordination opportunities and by the Internet in general?

So, “if the question we are asking is, ‘How does the Internet impact the chances for democratization in a country like China?’, we have to look beyond what it does to citizens’ ability to communicate with each other or their supporters in the West,” Morozov says. Compared with the $70m China had spend by 2003 on censorship, it had spent $120 billion on e-government. “Will it modernize the Chinese Communist Party? It will. Will it result in the establishment of democratic institutions that we expect in liberal democracies? It may not.”

  • Shirkey mentions his “bias” that “non-democratic governments are lousy at managing market economies over the long haul. That’s a baseline assumption, and it affects the context of digital publics.” Morozov says this was true even before Twitter, and most previous revolutions such as against communism in Poland, were not a result of such interventions as smuggling in of Xerox machines, but because of economic collapse. Referring to Iran’s announcement to ban Gmail and replace it with a national service, Shirkey says that by placing such bans, authoritarian regimes are “acquiring a kind of technological auto-immune disease. They are attacking their own communications infrastructure as the only way to root out the coordination among the insurrectionists.” But Morozov thinks that announcement should be seen in the context of the revelation of Google’s ties with the NSA. They want to be seen as: “We absolutely want to make sure that our citizens are not being watched by NSA”, which can be effective domestic propaganda.
  • Since the dawn of the Internet, Shirkey says, “in overestimating the importance of the value of the access to information, and we’ve underestimated the importance of the access of value to people.” “If we could lower the censorship barriers between the West and China, could just remove the Golden Shield altogether, while the Chinese retain the same degree of control over citizens and citizen communication, not much would change. If the Golden Shield stays up in its full form, but the citizen communication and coordination gets better, a lot will change.” Asked if this change will be good or bad, he accepts that “there will be national movements whose goals are inimical to the foreign policy objectives of the West”, but adds what really matters is that these countries are democracies.
  • But what comes first?” asks Morozov, “Democracy or Internet-based contention?” And when democracies are new, they are vulnerable. “If you have a weak state entering a transition period — and it’s fair to say the Internet would mobilize the groups that would make a weak state even weaker — chances are you would not end up with a democracy in the end.”

Responses to Shirky and Morozov:

Rebecca Mackinnon

the changes brought about by the Internet cannot be exclusively good or bad.“It’s everything all at once because it’s an extension of human activity and an amplification of human nature.” While Shirkey’s arguments on how the Internet empowers people to organize themselves sounds true, Morozov is also doing an important job of deflating utopia fantasies. “The Internet’s future — technically, culturally, politically, and content-wise — is up to each and every one of us who uses and inhabits it.”

Nichaolas Karr

the Internet is both a tool of control (as a computer network) and of emancipation (as a medium of personal expression). “We are at the beginning of a long cat-and-mouse game between those who would use the Net to exert central control and those who would use it to break that control.” Whether the Internet “might be promoting a certain (hedonism-based) ideology that may actually push [people] further away from any meaningful engagement in politics?”

“As far as opiates of the people go,” he says, “the Internet is a particularly intoxicating one.”

Geroge Dyson

“Tis considerable, that it does not only teach how to deceive, but consequently also how to discover Delusions,” Bishop John Wilkins, founding secretary of the Royal Society, said about digital communications in 1641. “Wilkins was concerned with the case where the good guys are within the government, and the bad guys without,” Dyson says. Shirky and Morozov are talking about the case in which the bad guys are in the government.

Douglass Rushkoff

“Neda was still killed despite the fact that there were people taking those videos,” but “the function of the Net may not have been to save Neda’s life”, he belives, but “to allow the entirety of networked society to bear witness to the atrocity. Neda did not die alone, unnoticed and undocumented.”Similarly, “the function of Twitter in Iran may not have been to launch a successful challenge to a corrupt election — but rather to help those in Iran experience at least momentary solidarity with one another and the rest of the world.”

“It’s not that the Net doesn’t allow for the creation of the required charismatic leader,” Rushkoff believes. “It’s such a leader is no longer necessary. The ground rules have changed with the landscape.”

Jaron Lanier

“It seems apparent, alas, that Facebook, Twitter, etc. have not improved American democracy, and yet we expect these tools to promote democracy elsewhere.” According to Lanier, “The basic problem is that web 2.0 tools are not supportive of democracy by design. They are tools designed to gather spy-agency-like data in a seductive way, first and foremost, but as a side effect they tend to provide software support for mob-like phenomena.”

“Governments oppress people, but so do mobs,” he warns. “You need to avoid both to make progress.”

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9 Comments

  1. ElzbthMllr 20:50, Apr 25th, 10

    I agree with Frost that it’s inherently problematic to assume that it’s possible to have a common political culture and subsequently a postnationalist society, and to assume that the Internet can help spread this sense of so-called global solidarity. First of all, with respect to the concepts of community, I agree there are issues with anonymity and building solidarity, the fact that identities change etc, but I think to a large extent the Internet is simply codifying existing identities and communities. I think the issues related to political engagement are discussed very well in the Morozov and Shirky piece, which I’ll write my thoughts on in a second. I also think there are issues related to social inclusively and the digital divide that play into what Frost is saying. As we’ve discussed in class, the divisions between the haves and the have nots are great, not just in terms of who has access to the Internet and who doesn’t, but the fact that a good portion of what is online is in English also limits people to take part in these online discussions. We’ve talked about the problem of new media elites before, and I think we can see it at play again with respect to the issues of this article.

    The Morozov & Shirky piece was as great as everyone said it was. I think Morozov really hits on a key point when he says that companies like Twitter and Google are first and foremost about making profit and that they they aren’t tied to spreading American ideals. Morozov is right about the “politicization attached to the use of Twitter, Google”, I can’t tell you how many conferences have had panel discussions I’ve attended in the past year that have at least focused on this issue if not head on, then tangentially where people/experts discuss the politiciziation of these technologies and tools. And the fact that it’s even spread to the non-profit community which is saying something. I do think that Shirky is correct however, when he says that the fact that repressive governments shut down sites like Facebook is to dampen the public sphere and that those regimes are “right in fearing better social coordination among the public.” I also thought about this discussion in context of last week’s readings and the Sunstein readings/presentations. If these groups use the Internet for better communication and to self organize, does it mean that they will become more become divided and polarized, which could eventually lead to increased racial and cultural divide, political rifts, etc? If so, does this make the case, as Shirky makes, for governments reacting to harshly to these social media tools that allow these groups to form? Hard to say, as Morozov points out, these groups have been doing this kind of stuff for decades, although there is something inherently different about how they are doing it now with technology, as Shirky argues. Morozov’s chicken or egg question about what comes first, democracy or Internet-based contention really seems to be at the heart of this discussion. I think it’s pretty interesting and it’s hard to say whose side I ultimately agree with, I might say Morozov, although I think both he and Shirky are right in different ways and we can talk about it in class.

    As for the responses, I think Carr is right when he points out that the question is to whether Net “might be promoting a certain (hedonism-based) ideology that may actually push [people] further away from any meaningful engagement in politics?” I think Shirky can point out examples where this isn’t the case, but I agree that it’s something worth exploring more, because it lies at the heart of this discussion between the two. Dyson’s response addresses the tension of authority, and who has power, and what they decide to do with that vis a vis the Internet. Lastly, I think Lanier makes an important point about how we expect tools like Facebook and Twitter to improve democracy elsewhere when they haven’t done that here in the United States! I also agree with Lanier that there seems to be more failures of mob-like effects than the delights or successes.

  2. Alexandra 09:29, Apr 26th, 10

    I would echo Elizabeth’s comment about the digital divide, but – and this may be slightly unrelated – we have talked about the prevalence of mobile devices in other countries where Internet may not be widespread, but vast majorities of people have SMS capabilities. Of course SMS is not the same thing as Internet access, but it is something. SMS is also not restricted to a particular language.

    I am at the airport and have to get on my flight soon, so have a great last class, everyone! Hope to see you in the future!

  3. juliette b 14:02, Apr 26th, 10

    The Morozov and Shirky debate is definitely very interesting.
    I agree with Shirky’s analysis of the new possibilities for social coordination that appear to be a threat to governments’ control over people. However his argument lacks a global dimension (as in his book Here Comes Everybody). He is too American oriented and seem to forget about the digital devide. In this respect I completely agree with Elizabeth who has pinpointed Lanier’s point. Lanier underlines the absence of social achievements by Facebook or Twitter in the US which the country the more likely to react to democratic attempt. Shirky raises hope but there is no long term social achievement that could make us believe in the birth of a new public sphere.
    I guess I would agree more with Morozov perspective who remains very skeptic about the creation of a new public sphere through the Internet.

    On the contrary I greatly value Catherine Frost when she explains that ‘exclusion is a powerful force for forging solidarity’. Indeed what if the public sphere was to be developed outside of the web?
    This brought me back to the book Commonwealth in which Hardt and Negri focus on the study of the repartition of powers that rule the world. They establish that since forever one power “the Empire” rules the world submitting the other potential sources of power to his control. In their perspective globalization has resulted in “the creation of a common world” but has done nothing but broadening the power of the Empire. To resist to this power the two scholars believe in the “free subjects” that have the power to resist. The two scholars give the example of the key role played by slavery in disclosing the outrageous “contradiction at the heart of the republic of property” (between democracy and slavery) therefore making “the emancipation inevitable”. This argument is particularly interesting in the scope of a new public sphere. If we follow Hardt’s and Negri’s direction we could think of a public sphere that would emerge among people that are excluded.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Hardt

  4. Ryan 15:10, Apr 26th, 10

    The Frost piece taking Habermas’ ideas of a public sphere and Anderson’s work on how print media helped to engender and reify nationalism and solidarity through literacy and language, Frost tries to connect their ideas to the internet to see if it has a similar or new effect through four facets: 1) sense of community 2) systems of meaning 3) political engagement and 4) social inclusiveness.

    Upon arguing that internet identities are anonymous and disposable, I think that this actually pertains to Harris’ last travelogue to see how one’s online identity translates or connects with their real-life identity. Questions of authenticity arise, however, with respect to Frost’s argument I don’t think that identities can be reduced to such simplistic words. Whether online or not, identities are extremely complicated, fluid, and sometimes contradictory as online users whether blogs or social networking sites can often strategically develop their identities to look great whereas other times individuals can also write or post texts, images, or videos to damage their own image or identity. How this translates to a sense of community online and/or offline becomes murky. Communities that come to mind are gaming fans, political groups (Tea Party Movement), and other communal groups advocating for something. I tend to disagree on a certain level with Frost, the online anonymity that seems to dismantle social bonds I feel is not justified. Who’s anonymous online? Sure, people can create different identities (avatars) but these can be masks of their real ones that might be a way of protecting themselves online, but when people meet up, these masks or anonymous identities soon become dismantled. However, I would agree with her that online identities can in a way a illusory or exaggerated social network rather than dismantling social bonds.

    Again, as Elizabeth and Alexandra bring up, a digital divide of access is clearly evident that seems to be undermined by this democratic ideology that the internet empowers everyone. Also, the fact that English seems to dominate the internet architecture also speaks to who it is for and who it excludes. I do think that the internet can help to foster a sense of meaning, but I question like others its ability to sustain these meanings and solidarity. Politically, it can be utilized in ways to engage people to participate democratically e.g. Rock the Vote, Obama’s campaign, and more, but it can be limited on the level of the quality and value of engagement. For example, the difference between being engaged through making a donation on behalf of a political or social cause or actually doing something more. It makes me think that the internet creates a false sense of belonging or participation in certain cases. “these “loose constituencies of shared interest cannot lay the groundwork for the demanding task of political life” >> To which I would agree.

    Frost’s conclusion was interesting because it made me feel like those who utilize a ‘grassroots campaign style’ with much more to gain by “pioneering new ways of social relations, meaning, and engagement than others… I wonder who these people are??? What do they look like all around and what are they fighting for to gain? I wonder too, usually great movements do have great leaders and causes that people are willing to put their lives on the line. I don’t necessarily believe that the internet has the capacity to do this because of its freedom. Yet, Morozov’s example of how those in Iran who used Twitter are now deemed enemies of the state highlights what Lanier and the others’ comments with the difference between how governments, corporations, and individuals use the internet > censorhip, spying, democracy, networking, etc.

    Plus, national solidarities aren’t just born from the modes of communication like print or net literacies, but more so stem from ideologies, economies, and power and so much more. For example: America, capitalism, freedom, democracy really masks disparity of wealth, greed, selfish, independence, etc. that lie at the heart of its prosperity, not to mention the military power which has helped the US to be so great.

    I would say that when the governments step in and censor or use these social networking sites, what does that say about its power of communication. Other countries governments understand the importance of severing communication to strategically hinder their subjects efforts to mobilize, collaborate, spread ideas, and act. Neither democracies or internet-based contention come first, dictatorships do which spawn both of these. But using the internet to push for democracy is a possibility. I think that the people are just trying to utilize the internet as a newer tool for achieving their goals. It’s not that things or people have changed, it’s just that technology has and that people are trying to either keep up with it and/or use it to achieve their goals. But this poses the question of how effective it is in achieving political or social goals? What are the goals?

    I keep thinking of other great historical movements and what were the key ingredients to their success. I’m sure it wasn’t only the modalities of communication, but it was the people’s commitment and willingness to do whatever it took to achieving their goals.

    I believe Alexandra has a point, in certain other countries cell phones (SMS) seem to be more accessible than computers. However, the one’s who can be empowered by using the net will largely depend on who’s literate enough to use and navigate it and who has means to access it. Communication is depends a lot upon who’s listening. The net is so big too so it creates an interesting paradox because either so little listen or it could catch on to millions.

    Lastly, before I’ll shut up, the responses to Morozov/Shirky debate were very complementary to what was discussed. It all seems to come back to an idea surrounding the politics of digital communication and media where democracy, collaboration, access, and engagement are the impetuses behind the discussion.

  5. Ryan 15:16, Apr 26th, 10
  6. HoniehLayla 19:44, Apr 26th, 10

    The internet is definitely an environment that is as Harris put it “social flux.” Identities can not be relied up nor, nor are they indispensable.

    The online world at this point is very commercialized and it is very difficult to use the internet or it’s users as a platform to define a type of social identity. There is not a nationality of “internet users” as of yet. A nationality is born when a group of people of the same beliefs/tensions/values are born and share the same views/perspectives or more generally are exposed to the same ideas.

    The internet, web 2.0, users, web sites – is too cluttered and unorganized to create such classifications as of yet.

    I must agree with Rushkoff’s statement, mainly because it hits home. The actual medium of the mobile phone posting the video on twitter was not to “SAVE HER” or to show her as a martyr, by chance this was done. The purpose of the video was for Iran to be in touch with the outside world, and vice versa. I do believe the the social web tools are significant in showing bits and pieces of struggles in other countries, but don’t believe they are a strong enough tool to rid of a regime.

    ”Similarly, “the function of Twitter in Iran may not have been to launch a successful challenge to a corrupt election — but rather to help those in Iran experience at least momentary solidarity with one another and the rest of the world

  7. Leslie 01:01, Apr 27th, 10

    If anyone can write under an assumed identity, it’s a lot of power. As Frost mentioned, anonymity can be a problem, because it skews the way people express themselves. And, many times, this power is used for bad things. But on the other hand, not being anonymous can do the same thing, but probably to a lesser degree.

    Like Honieh mentioned, we do not currently have a true Internet community/nationality. Rather, many are just “users” of the Internet, not harnessing its power to its fullest extent. The Internet is here & available, but it is not being used to its full potential yet. The possibilities are there, though. I definitely see where Frost is coming from, that the fact that the Internet is so anonymous makes it difficult to create a common identity. The very way the Internet is used has prevented it to be seen for its true potential. It’s a tool for personal exploit. For example, every time people go on a website where they must log in, they have the option of creating an alias through the use of a “username,” preventing them from having to truly identify themselves.

    The potential is there for the user population to harness the Internet as a vehicle for social change, reform, etc, but in order to do so, we as a collective must come to an understanding that to harness the power of the Internet for the “greater good” of the majority, we must first become aware of its potential. We must understand that, yes, the Internet can be used for these consumerist purposes, but that should be secondary. The Internet could potentially allow the masses to overcome various types of world powers. But, as a mass, we’d have to understand this and “snap out” of using it for mainly consumerist purposes.

  8. nadine 13:25, Apr 27th, 10

    @Leslie, Honieh and Frost:
    Yes, anonymity can lead to fragmented and easy-to-opt-out identities, hindering community and solidarity building. But at the same tame, it is powerful mechanism to protect people and their opinions, and enable political and social movements that otherwise would be squashed. However, the equation isn’t that simple. In some cases, exposing the identity can be just as powerful: the Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez has certainly not disappeared (yet) because she is an avid twitterer…

    @Juliette: very controversial statement. Does the tension of slavery necessarily lead to emancipation? History has many examples that prove the contrary. However, the question remains: does emancipation need to come from within or is it legitimate to give it a little hand from outside?

    @Ryan: here a great TED talk with Morozov and how authoritarian regimes benefit from the Internet: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2009-10/26/ted-fellows-evgeny-morozov.aspx

    I agree that the politicization of the Internet and social media is very problematic: Hillary Clinton praises the Internet as a human right and as a US foreign policy priority in her speech about Internet freedom, and US senators declare Twitter as the antithesis to terror http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/01/06/twitter_vs_terror?page=full

    In the TED talk, Morozov labels this approach as “iPod LIBERALISM”: now that the Cold War is over, we don’t drop bombs anymore to spread democracy, but iPods (and Laptops for Children)…

    Some final remarks about solidarity:
    Solidarity is not only fickle, but selective.
    1) Even in Iran where Twitter sparked a big wave of international solidarity: where is the community today?
    2) Not everybody has the status of a “baby seal”- some victims count more than others. It’s always astonishing to observe how passionate “international public opinion” gets on certain authoritarian regimes and human rights violators, and so little cares about others.

  9. Jimena 14:06, Apr 27th, 10

    “If we are to make responsible decisions today, we need to think about what might lie ahead” –Yes! Precisely, the incredibly fast pace of the Internet makes waiting for a historical perspective too costly. It is still evolving and it will never stop doing so—then we can’t wait until the dust settles to evaluate it. It is continally adjusting, and as hard as it is we need to try to jump ahead a couple of steps so, at least, we’re mildly aware of its consequences.

    I think that commercialization allows for community building, it speeds it up and it can certainly make it sustainable. But at the same time, it hinders certain groups to join the community, and it threatens diversity by commodifying culture. Your second question is very thought provoking, too. We would expect extreme nationalism to be on a steady decline since WWII, but when we might think that human loyalties are beginning to be less fanatic and more free, we see a substantial growth of neo-Nazism, separatism, segregation, racism, purism…passion and loyalty for more humanistic causes, such as equal rights, environmental issues, world peace, etc have generated strong enough force to somewhat compensate the scale, but in the end it all seems to be temporary, just as political solidarity (online or otherwise). Nationalism (and racism) seem to be enrooted on a deeper level. So I don’t see common experiences competing with old loyalties any time soon, especially because those experiences are way less common (accessibility, again) than national identity. Frost’s point on political engagement kind of sustains this—the illusion of equality makes for a stronger divide. I agree with Frost’s conclusion—the empowering extremes (those who have absolute access and are ahead of the line, and on the other side the least empowered) are usually too far away from the real conflict (or too busy trying to survive) to jump into action. The border, the middle ground, is fertile ground for new ideas.

    I agree with Honieh and Leslie—the web 2.0 is not only not defined by nationality, I think it actually erases those borders more than ever. English is the official Web language, and the knowledgeable few who know code can speak its second tongue. But on the other hand, the anonymity and the fluidity of the cyberspace allow for radical divisions and identity-based communities —maybe not based on nationality but on ideology and opinion. The web has the potential to polarize the extremes.

    A powerful idea in Frost is seeing exclusion as a force to generate solidarity. It always has been—exclusion has played a vital role in the revolutionary wars and civil wars, in the fight for independence from colonial occupancy and minority upheavals. But the excluded need common tools and a common space, and the thought of the Web being a welcoming space for the construction of a new public sphere in Habermas’ sense is still a hard one for me to buy. I tend to agree more with the ‘utopia-deflating’ view of Morozov.

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