[iDC] Introduction: The Internet as Playground and Factory

Joe Edelman joe.edelman at gmail.com
Sat Jun 13 23:23:48 UTC 2009

Davin, Michael:

I think that the distinction between online organizing and "some  
physical experience" is about to erode.  It's based on a "social  
media" world where computers are in people's basements instead of in  
their pockets, and where friend-of-a-friend data is more easy to come  
by than who-is-nearby data.  These things are technological and they  
are changing fast.  In many parts of the world computers were never in  
basements, only in pockets, and people's first experiences with social  
media were via text messages leading directly to face time.  This will  
turn out to be more the basic model.

Thank god!  Who wants a world of people in their basements?  Let's  
take to the streets.


J.E. // nxhx.org // (c) 413.250.8007

On Jun 13, 2009, at 2:14 PM, davin heckman wrote:

> I agree with you, actually.  (Which is why I am on this list.  I do
> not know any of the people face to face, but I do feel a strong sense
> of affection and solidarity, especially when exchanges get personal
> and force us to be present, responsible, and accountable to each
> other).
> I think, however, that the prerequisite for strong online organization
> is successful experience to some physical experience.  I am skeptical
> about the idea online activism could precede "live" activism.  A
> large, diverse, and successful political action is a very hard thing
> to pull off....  and the rewards are often realized in subtle ways...
> especially if you "lose."  The sense of danger, the feelings of
> dependence, the way in which individual limitations are transcended
> through solidarity, and how disappointments lead to other positives.
> But through all this you learn how to be an activist.  It changes who
> you are, becomes a part of your being.  (And in a small community,
> especially, it marks you as a particular kind of person, which has its
> downsides, but also ups the ante in a good way.)  And, then you kind
> of have to seek other people out and connect with them....  which is
> where, I think, social media comes in.
> Peace!
> Davin
> On Fri, Jun 12, 2009 at 10:59 PM, Michael
> Bauwens<michelsub2003 at yahoo.com> wrote:
>> Hi David,
>> I'm very sympathetic to your point of view, rooted in struggle and  
>> real life experience, and indeed, social media is no panacea.
>> However, it seems your example is rooted in local organizing, but  
>> what about the translocal.
>> I wouldn't want to overstate the community aspects of my own work  
>> at the P2P Foundation, but I see it as a forum for serious  
>> discourse and exchange, aimed at 'changing the world', and I have  
>> enough anecdotal evidence, emails sent by many people, to indicate  
>> that is has sustained hope and strength in many different people.
>> So, actually, in the end, I do not agree, discouraging people from  
>> using social media is pretty much like discouraging people from  
>> using TV, it won't work, because it offers too many benefits. So I  
>> would rather say, go with the use (no use to push people at all,  
>> they are all doing it by themselves anyway), but try to change that  
>> use, by infusing consciousness, a sense of the possible, and a  
>> sense that new futures can be co-constructed, both f2f and through  
>> social media.
>> But indeed, I also object to just "playing around", signing  
>> petitions that have no effect at all, etc...
>> There is I think something in between the two positions,
>> Michel
>> ----- Original Message ----
>>> From: davin heckman <davinheckman at gmail.com>
>>> To: "idc at mailman.thing.net" <idc at mailman.thing.net>
>>> Sent: Monday, June 8, 2009 10:47:52 PM
>>> Subject: Re: [iDC] Introduction: The Internet as Playground and  
>>> Factory
>>> I was at a barbecue about a week ago, chatting with my brother-in- 
>>> law,
>>> who's a labor organizer.  He's less concerned with swelling the  
>>> ranks
>>> of a particular union than he is with talking to working people  
>>> about
>>> how they can, by talking with each other, improve their situation.
>>> As a teacher, I was interested in picking his brain on how I could  
>>> use
>>> some of his work to help my students talk about their lives,  
>>> formulate
>>> their responses, and organize themselves around issues that matter  
>>> to
>>> them.  Naturally, the talk turned to social media as a possibility  
>>> and
>>> an obstacle for such organization.
>>> His advice to me, based on anecdotal evidence, was to advise  
>>> students
>>> against using social media for organizing until they had strong
>>> face-to-face relationships.  And then, only use it sparingly, as a
>>> tool.  His experience, based on work with 20-50 year old working  
>>> folks
>>> was that attitudes quickly devolve into patterns consistent with the
>>> consumption of entertainment--you do it when you have time, when  
>>> it is
>>> fun, and with the multitude of available channels of information  
>>> it is
>>> too easy to avoid bare-knuckle conflicts (even when exchanges become
>>> hot).  In his view, the contexts which require organizing the most  
>>> are
>>> those which are going to be risky--where you might lose your job,  
>>> face
>>> retaliation, and, in some cases, get beaten.  And so, you need a  
>>> tight
>>> social relationship in which people are willing to sacrifice for  
>>> each
>>> other.  His efforts at organizing online were weak...  they  
>>> generated
>>> good talk among those who participated...  but they did not  
>>> translate
>>> into a strong group, unless the group was rooted in face-to-face
>>> relationships.
>>> The view he articulated to me was basically the one that I had been
>>> moving more closely to over the years--watching students organize an
>>> organization with 200 members on facebook, and then showing up to an
>>> empty meeting.  On the other hand, groups with no online presence  
>>> can
>>> have very active meetings.  Part of me wonders if there is a divide
>>> between social media use in large metropolitan areas, where there  
>>> are
>>> lots of things going on... versus life in smaller cities and towns,
>>> where people have more limited activities to choose from and less
>>> money to spend on entertainment.  Maybe in big cities or among  
>>> certain
>>> demographic groups, social media "works" better.  Where I live and
>>> teach, it tends to fall flat.  If I want someone to help out with
>>> something, I have to put in face-to-face time.  I've lived in places
>>> where you could choose from several Critical Mass bike rides to
>>> attend...  but then there are huge swaths of territory where people
>>> say, "Critical Mass?  What's that?"  And then, when you explain,  
>>> they
>>> say, "Why would you want to do that?"
>>> To finally get to my point, and I'm not trying to say there is
>>> anything wrong with Web 2.0 stuff, but I do think in terms of social
>>> potential it requires the user to approach it with a certain set of
>>> priorities, a certain consciousness, and a learned orientation.  IF
>>> the learned orientation is geared towards a rudimentary form of
>>> consumption, the space is going to be filled with similar  
>>> priorities,
>>> perhaps with a bit more detail and elaboration.  But it does not
>>> inevitably lead towards anything utopian, except in the kind of
>>> watered-down neoliberal sense where we call fun "utopia."  On the
>>> other hand, if people habitually have robust relationships that are
>>> tied to consequence, they are more likely to place those  
>>> expectations
>>> onto any medium that they are invested in.  Even if consumers become
>>> "green consumers" or "hipsters" (or whatever the thing to do is)...
>>> as long as "the good" is framed primarily as an enlightened approach
>>> to individual consumer choices...  it will be hard to respond to
>>> employers and corporations who coordinate their decision-making in  
>>> an
>>> integrated way, facilitated by market research, lobbying, finance,
>>> etc.
>>> In general, contemporary critical theory is frightened of tackling
>>> concepts like guilt, sacrifice, duty, responsibility, etc.  Such
>>> concepts are toxic to neoliberalism (except in those cases when they
>>> can be exploited, like when neglected children learn to nag their
>>> overworked parents into buying shit to make up for their absence),  
>>> and
>>> consequently, generations of people are afraid of these feelings.
>>> But, if social media is going to work, it needs to be able to carry
>>> consequences in proportion to risks.  If they are going to translate
>>> into material effects, the virtual actions must be tied to embodied
>>> responses.
>>> How do we do this?  Well...  my brother-in-law does a great job
>>> organizing people.  Educators have an opportunity to connect  
>>> students
>>> to this reality.  And, artists can do this in their work.
>>> Unfortunately, there aren't enough organizers, artists, and  
>>> educators
>>> doing this.  It requires active effort and hard work by people who  
>>> are
>>> conscious of the problem.  More importantly, we need to imagine an
>>> entire education which is geared towards fostering an ethical view
>>> that is capable of seeing systems of power beyond individual
>>> decisions.
>>> If the Internet is a factory, then maybe we should follow the  
>>> model of
>>> past efforts of successful organizing....  And this usually takes
>>> place when the workers are off the clock, when they can have candid
>>> discussions, and when they can get to know each other personally and
>>> intimately.  Especially in the case of the web, where people can get
>>> so caught up in posturing and image-management, it might be doubly
>>> powerful to be cared for and accepted in the flesh, where we feel a
>>> little flabbier and look a bit more blemished, where there is no
>>> backspace to filter out a personality flaw.
>>> Peace!
>>> Davin Heckman
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