Tuesday, October 30, 2012

     Castells uses several points of reference in his summary dissection of the changes the internet has made on our politics, around the world and at every level. The communications opportunities are endless, and the speed with which social change can build increases. Castells lays out these benefits and warnings by showing the evolution of internet governance.
     The speed of the internet rapidly changed how we arrive at social change. Hundreds of years ago it was either ecclesiastic or secular estates that were more than likely the force behind social change. In the industrial era, labor movements caused tremendous change. With the adoption of the internet people no longer have a need to keep "Formal civic associations" running and politically active all the time. Now that we have this idea of always connected to everyone, it seems like we can just get the word out about problems as they come, a more spontaneous model for response. The labor and capital required to keep most non government organizations running seems like a waste of time, and so they lose support. The effect is that we gather movement that are not always aimed at changing laws, but more intentioned on informing people and starting a discourse to bring about organic change. Organic change becomes necessary when people begin forming societies across national lines because they are using it not only as an information tool, but an ongoing, open dialogue capable of social transformation.
     Amsterdam's Digital City, started in 1994 was an ongoing experiment which allowed people to register as a member of this cyber city, communicate with all of its members and run the system on their own. The city was functional on its own until it was fully linked with the internet and the power structure began to divide. People had not been interested enough to get invested in the city beyond novelty interest, and those that were financially invested did not have enough power to guide the project on to something meaningful.
     The digital city was an attempt at running a completely open information city. Attempts by real, state run societies have failed for different reasons. In Amsterdam's Digital City the power diffusion was too great to maintain order of the project. In 1999 the California Democracy Newtwork (DNET) provided relevant and helpful information to those that visited, but only 4,000 people ever used it. This site's problem was not functionality or control, it was simply that people were passing on the option to get deeply involved in our politics online. Although the DDS project faded, it had a huge following, thousands more than DNET. While the DDS project appealed to people interested in technology and online communication, the DNET was left under used because it was attempting to california voters, and had nothing to offer the early adopters of internet technology. Early users of the internet also had a hand in creating blog news. Used as a money making tool by Ryan Holiday, his book "Trust Me Im Lying" is proof that news companies still have a hard time figuring out which internet rumor should be printed and which should be discarded as a random story created from nothing.
     Aside from news companies needing to protect their product, so do nation-states need to protect themselves. With increasing activity relying on the internet, industrialized nations are at increasing risk of sabotage. Castell does not warn about some hacker nation or group launching our nuclear missles while we stand helpless, but instead causing enough havoc on the periphery of our system that it brings our economy down. Recently America launched its own form of cyber warfare with the Stuxnet virus which was able to infect computers in Iran and destroy nuclear centrifuges. This is the first major attack in the new fast, light wars of the future.


  1. A lot going on here, Sam, so I will just limit myself to responding to a few things. You mention the new kind of "cyberwar" enabled by network technologies, and some great reads on this front are Lowood & Lenoir on the "military-entertainment complex" and Galloway and Thacker on network exploits. As for how these same technologies have transformed social movements, I wonder how many of you have heard of or used MoveOn or something similar?

  2. I've heard of MoveOn, but I sign petitions in Change.org where basically anyone can start and win campaigns for social change. They've had several successful social movements, such as the Trayvon Case: https://www.change.org/petitions/prosecute-the-killer-of-our-son-17-year-old-trayvon-martin

    I know that most people think that these online petitions seem like the slacker thing to do, but a single "sign" can spur changes!