By Tim Hardy
In The Machines Change, the Work Remains the Same, Robert Jensen discusses the role of computer-mediated communication (CMC) in activism, warning against an over-reliance on machines and stressing the importance of using traditional campaigning methods to build strong, local ties.
He warns that activists can be seduced into spending too much time and energy online but makes two important corollary cautions:
First, political information is not political action. Being able to distribute more information more widely more quickly does not automatically lead to people acting on that information. The information must be presented in ways that lead people to believe they should act, and there must be vehicles for that action.
Second, what appears to be wasting time online is not always a waste of time. Just as we solidify bonds with people face-to-face by chatting about the mundane aspects of our lives, we sometimes do that online. Political organizing—like all of life—includes such interaction.
This is an excellent article worth reading in full.
He also references an excellent interview with Joss Hands on the same site in which the interviewee offers a counterpoint to the view of critics like Malcolm Gladwell, stressing:
I believe such pessimism is overstated. For one thing the act of making an effort to write something, click a link, tweet or sign a petition – even if the message itself is lost or goes unread – the commitment, however small, of reinforcing and restating ones own principles or point of view represents some kind of act of social solidarity that may otherwise never happen, and that is not nothing. And that is the worst-case scenario: some messages surely do get through, even if to a small number of people, but the interconnected distributed nature of the web means that small circles can soon expand.
Critics of clicktivism often overstate their case partly because that’s how you sell books. Moreover, disillusioned people often find a relief from their heartbreak by spreading the bad news: hey kids, Santa’s not real, now get in the misery line with the rest of us grown ups.
There are real dangers in online activism. For people working in repressive regimes, the fact that you are too often doing the state’s surveillance work for them can have fatal consequences. For those of us who have the fortune to live in democracies, however imperfect, one of the key problems is in mobilising people to take concrete action when governments are acting in ways decent people see as unreasonable.
I believe that the tools we use online to communicate influence their potential for effecting change. How can we alter them or the ways in which we use them to create more vehicles for action?