[iDC] How does social media educate?

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Fri Feb 9 22:19:49 EST 2007

In my opinion, the 'peer governance' of projects where people congregate to
produce something in common, where participation brings decision, differs
from democracy.

What I think happened is that our new distributed technical and
organizational infrastructures allow for the global coordination of a
multitiude of small projects, which have a scale that permits such
co-decision, and turns out to be more democratic and efficient than
centralized or decentralized modes. Because it is more efficient, the
existing institutions feel driven to adopt it, while at the same time they
need to protect their existing power monopolies. Trying to mix and match
both is what gives it the contradictory nature.

The hypothesis of a peer to peer mode of civilization is simply that the p2p
mode will be the core, that the current subsystem becomes the metasystem.
The other two scenarios, one of which is that the old establishment achieves
to stop the new, I believe to be irrealistic, if only because it is
destroying the biosphere and therefore incompatible with its own
reproduction; the middle scenario, a successfull integration of peer to peer
within a renewed Empire and system of cognitive capitalism, is a distinct
possibility, but not a certainty.

Democracy however, is not distribution, but decentralization, because it
operates on too big a scale, and there is no a priori consensus.

Peer governance, which is non-representational,  does therefore not replace
representative democracy, both will co-exist. As peer projects get bigger,
they may have to adopt representational processes, while on the other side
of the equation, representative processes will adapt and/or make place for
more spheres of responsible autonomy and self-governed networks, while
itself also adapting multistakeholder formats that bypass pure

Mills definition cannot be applied to the processes inherent in peer
governance, which circumvents scarcity.


On 2/6/07, Ulises <arsalaan1-idc at yahoo.com> wrote:
> Tobias (and all),
> I share your sentiments regarding Hinchcliffe's definition. Somehow, it is
> not enough.
> Someone please fill in the blank: Instead of seeking to define social
> media in functional terms (all the hype about what it can do), we need to
> define it in terms of _________ .
> We tend to get excited about the presence of the word 'social' in the term
> 'social media.' It signifies a new era, we are told (for the sort of reasons
> Hinchcliffe gives). At the same time, we take too much for granted (I
> believe) the presence of the word 'media,' a word that hints at very
> specific dynamics of information consumption and social control. You wrote:
> "if these [Hinchcliffe's] 5 points [conversation, open organization,
> transparency, bidirectionality, and distribution] face significant
> difficulty throughout history, then why would a  specific technology somehow
> enable the realization of these [direct democracy] values?"
> Precisely! This is the reason why I asked at the beginning:
> What is the educational problem in our societies to which social media is
> said to be the obvious answer?
> What kind of society requires the emergence of social media as an
> educational tool in the first place?
> Consider the importance that Hinchcliffe gives to 'pull' --as opposed to
> 'push'-- in social media. This characteristic is important only because
> media has historically been associated with 'push.' Now, however, we are
> told that _social_ media is 'flattening the world' of communication. Why,
> then, continue to call it _media_? Is our collective
> subconscious  interjecting a moment of honesty here? When 'push' becomes a
> mass phenomenon, doesn't it start to approximate 'push'?
> You bring up direct democracy. Here's C.W. Mills' description of direct
> democracy:
> "The people are presented with problems. They discuss them. They decide on
> them. They formulate viewpoints. These viewpoints are organized, and they
> compete. One viewpoint 'wins out.' Then the people act out this view, or
> their representatives are instructed to act it out, and this they promptly
> do." (The power elite, 1956, pp. 299-300)
> Mills was deriding this uncomplicated view of direct democracy because it
> does not take into account power dynamics. But our enthusiasm for social
> media seems to fuel this fantasy. Hey, what could be better for democracy
> than a healthy public sphere with increased possibilities for communication?
> But it's like Deleuze says: "Repressive forces don't stop people expressing
> themselves but rather force them to express themselves... What we're are
> plagued by these days isn't any blocking of communication, but pointless
> statements." (Negotiations, 1995, p. 129).
> If social media is to fulfill an educational purpose, it will need to
> contribute more than the individual's ability to make a statement, even if
> that statement is made in an environment with the flatness, transparency,
> bidirectionality, and open distribution that Hinchcliffe describes as the
> essence of social media.
> -Ulises
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