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.