[iDC] "How (bravely) the mammet twitters!”

Ulises Mejias uam2101 at columbia.edu
Thu Jun 18 11:36:33 UTC 2009


Thank you for your comments. But are we perhaps confusing the finger for the thing it is pointing at?

What is remarkable about the events in Iran is that people have taken to the streets to challenge an illegitimate election. The fact that some people are using Twitter to disseminate the news about the events, by-passing traditional media, is important but has little to do with what has motivated the Iranian youth to take to the streets.

Twitter is not what has made or will make this movement successful, although not surprisingly, we in the West have reframed this uprising to be all about us: it's about how *we* get the information, and about the 'revolutionary' potential of our latest technological gadgets (potential that always seems somehow to elude us here at home, unfortunately). Already the Internet is awash with opinions from Web 2.0 gurus about how Iran is the Twitter revolution (much like Estonia was the Facebook revolution, some other place was the YouTube Revolution, and so on). Maybe it's just me, but I find this kind of technophilic argument reductionist and self-serving. Please give people, not corporate tools, their due credit.

Having said that, I also don't want to pretend that new technologies don't matter. I find Naeem Mohaiemen's piece on the Iranian protests quite insightful:

"The Iranian state is getting desperate, and tries to throttle internet traffic, block SMS flow, scramble satellite TV feeds. But every few seconds there is a twitter giving new proxy addresses that can be accessed from inside Iran. Even with net speed down to a crawl, activists keep pushing information through. We will bypass all filters."

Previously, Naeem says, "protests fade as the government waits until protestors are exhausted." Now, perhaps, Twitter keeps the momentum going. But let's not pretend that this is the kind of effect sociable media is intended to have on the masses. The fact that all we can do is consume tweets about what is *happening* elsewhere is an indication of how the system is really supposed to work. *We* (who failed to organize any kind of reaction against our own election fraud) are the mammets, not the people who--out of necessity or choice--revert back to the unmediated action of their bodies.


----- Original Message ----
From: john sobol <john at johnsobol.com>
To: Ulises Mejias <uam2101 at columbia.edu>
Cc: iDC at mailman.thing.net
Sent: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 10:04:22 PM
Subject: Re: [iDC] "How (bravely) the mammet twitters!” 

On 16-Jun-09, at 12:27 PM, Ulises Mejias wrote:
> In the new economics of 'mammet-generated content,' the users are mindless, sub-human.
> They are too small to count except in the aggregate. They performs mindless repetitive tasks;
> they twitter. But they are also dangerous. There is a potential threat living inside these
> Mechanical Turks, a dwarf genius. They are the masses who could potentially discover --if
> sociable media wasn't so much darn fun!-- that of all possible configurations, the network is
> being actualized as a machine for generating more, not less, inequality. In this economy, there
> is no difference between toil and play, and that's not accidental. The new mammet must be
> kept engaged in endless twittering--otherwise, it might go jihadi all over the network.
> -Ulises Mejias

A couple of days ago I started writing an atypically benign response to the above, atypical as I have on this listserv been pretty hardcore in the past in challenging what I see as the extreme one-sidedness of the argument that Ulises so effectively articulates here, but the extraordinary events in Iran have been so distracting that I only now find myself with a few minutes to continue writing, and as I do so I see that these current events constitute a far more compelling real-world rejection of the mammet metaphor than anything I could have written. For lo, here we have the mammet rising up and almost literally 'going jihadi all over the network' but without leaving the Mechanical Turk! It is in fact the golem with a flower, the Mechanical Turk dancing for peace.

Is it not so?

How is it that these once 'mindless sub-humans' have ridden the back of Twitter to rise up and smite their oppressors? Does this not make a mockery of experts in theoretical revolution, who have insisted that capitalist networks are inherently anti-revolutionary, inherently anti-human, anti-inspiration? Not that cyberwarfare can't be waged from both sides. Or course it can.  But these mammets bravely tweeting understand that human agency lies within human actors, and that 'the system' is never monolothic. That freedom is not necessarily abdicated by participating in a techno-social-network within a capitalist structure, especially when participation consists of telling a meaningful story to real human ears. In fact, it is enhanced, regardless of the ads inserted nearby.

So may they tweet on in Iran, and come to enjoy the fruits of their user-generated revolt, even as Twitter gains value and somewhere stockbrokers giggle in anticipation of its IPO.

John Sobol

More information about the iDC mailing list