Mom, I’m joining the “Network Army”

This week after our discussion of technology, power and activism as it pertains to networks and politics, I naturally turned an eye on myself to examine if and how ICTs have affected my engagement in political or social causes.

 I can attest that the Internet in particular has been instrumental in raising my awareness and prompted my support for certain causes, and on a few occasions even incited action (in the form of making a donation, attending an event, rally, fundraiser, etc.), where I otherwise would not have. I could be described as casually participating in a collection of  loosely organized communities and individuals, dubbed “Network armies”  by Richard Hunter, who are united on the basis of ideology, not geography, enabled by new communication technologies.

W. Lance Bennett in his chapter New Media Power: The Internet and Global Activism, discusses the power of such network activism. He argues that these communities dramatize the transforming potential of new communication technologies, and lack the structure and hierarchy that characterize the military, resulting in episodic collective outbursts, at best. He views their main role, rather, as a tool for connecting and information-sharing. I am tempted to give them a little more credit than that, and think the nature of the medium can be responsible for transforming individual attitudes and changing the way people relate to each other.

Collective action through media technologies can be distinctively powerful because they can be psychological in nature, and are independent of the constraints of time and space. Bennett’s chapter discusses culture jamming as an effective tool which plays off of already familiar memes. Such witty displays of mockery can be seen on mainstream media, such as on The Daily Show, and often go viral, which lends them even more power, ‘street cred’ if you will, due to the peer-to-peer aspect of the transmission. This showcases the power of the Internet, not just as a tool of communication, but as a symbol of activism being a bottom-up grass-roots effort.

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2 Responses to Mom, I’m joining the “Network Army”

  1. Lindsey B says:

    I think I’m in between you and the Gladwell/Bennett camp. Getting involved with a cause is more than just pressing “Like,” and, like it or not, if you don’t go out and actually DO something related to the cause you might be interested in, I don’t think it counts in the slightest. However, if you Like a cause or organization, find out more about it or get invited to an event that you actually attend, well then we’re getting somewhere.

    Malcolm Gladwell, yes, of Blink/Tipping Point fame, wrote an awesome article last month for the New Yorker called “The Revolution will not be Tweeted.” I’m inclined to agree, especially in this specific reference to the Iranian “Twitter” revolution of last year. He makes a really interesting correlation to the civil rights movement 50 years ago, where events and ideas spread by word of mouth.

    However, if people could have also organized based around a Facebook group then maybe the movement would have gotten more media support and people involved. I think having that public face of an event (as long as its not something that would get stopped/infiltrated if published…) that the media can also talk about can make a big difference in turning public opinion and helping the cause you like so much.

    Gladwell, The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted, Oct 4 2010

  2. annziker says:

    I am inclined to disagree with you, Mariam, and go more with Bennett on this one; in my opinion technology serves primarily as a way to reinforce attitudes and aid the organization of action around a (pre-exisiting) shared belief. Rallying people around issues in which they are not already somehow invested is hard; it’s made even harder when the network you’re transmitting information through is the one that people associate with status updates like “FML, broke a nail!” and the most popular app is farmville.

    However, as a tool to unite people who have already connected to a cause somehow, or who are peripherally interested but not yet engaged, in order to have big impacts, these networks are great.

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