[iDC] Re: In response to Tiziana (Ulises Mejias)

Ulises A. Mejias umejias at yahoo.com
Thu Jul 6 14:29:46 EDT 2006

I think we are asking whether social media can positively impact democracy in a sustained way, or whether social media carries within it the methods for its own appropriation by the mainstream.

Yes, as Trebor points out, the internet made it possible on February 15, 2003 for millions of people to demonstrate against the war. Yet the war went ahead, and I believe it would have gone ahead even if the mass of protesters had been 20 times larger. It is easy to see at a micro level how social media aided this particular public effort (or any other similar example). But it is more difficult to step back and see how the same technologies that facilitate these new forms of public action are perhaps also responsible for creating a state of affairs where that action can be easily dismissed. Maybe the system is capable of handling masses of protesters (and masses of bloggers, SMS'ers, etc.) because masses pose little threat. It is the small and well organized groups we have to worry about; and they are the exception, not the rule -- at least in the social media landscape.

As we all already know, it is possible for social media to both facilitate and restrict democracy depending on how it is used. But I think we should celebrate the former less and explore the implications of the latter more because we live in a world of increasing commodification and the degradation of public into mass. In other words, left to its own devices the social agency of code has a bias towards commodification and massification, not because of the technology per se or because people are powerless, but because of the social contexts which determine a technology's affordances. Exceptional examples should not obstruct our view of the historical trends in technological development and application.

I hesitate to make this message any longer because, if you are interested, I have made some of these points recently elsewhere:

The People Currently Conformed as the Mass (a response to Rosen's "The People Formerly Known as The Audience")

Response to Lanier's "Digital Maoism: Hazards of the New Online Collectivism"

Technology Without Ends: A Critique of Technocracy as a Threat to Being


(first-time contributor to iDC)

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