Stephen Hawking’s famously stated that “…all we need to do is make sure we keep talking.” Freedom of speech is a necessity but it’s also a myth, especially with censorship and privacy concerns frequently appearing in the news. What’s the Arab Spring again? Governments and organisations compete to regulate and moderate the Internet and there’s an arms race developing between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Together so much could be achieved but legislation and lawsuits only widen the divide. There would be anarchy if there were no rules in place, but bills like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) are bad policy and would harm innovation. While I support the desire to stop piracy and protect intellectual property, the US government already has considerable power to arrest people and seize assets in other countries. Is more power even necessary?
Adam Curtis’ documentary series The Power of Nightmares: “Baby it’s Cold Outside” (2004) claims that in the past, politicians offered us dreams of a better world. When this optimistic vision failed, people lost faith in ideologies. Today’s politicians are seen as managers of public life, instead of delivering dreams they promise to protect us from nightmares. Threats like the war on terror, that Curtis claims is an imagined threat, an illusion created and played out through the media. Such a view marks out a decline in trust in democratic politics, which in the last decade have become increasingly trivialised, with political consultants “spin doctors” attempting to shape the public attitude. David Cameron’s Big Society aims to provide a platform to communicate, but pressure groups have emerged with similar intentions to engage communities into public discussions. These assemblies allow people to voice their ideas for a better future through collaborative production. Declaring it’s time for citizens to represent themselves. The revolution might not be televised but the media have an important role in shaping the public opinion.
In recent years digital activism has become common place, allowing groups to raise awareness in issues that might oppose the mainstream. WikiLeaks are an organisation that takes this further by publishing and commenting on leaked documents. The site is designed to protect whistle-blowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public. The organisation has been applauded and condemned for its approach to releasing information to the public, but despite the mixed reaction, there’s no denying that people coming together can make a difference. Since the publications of “CableGate”, WikiLeaks has faced an unprecedented global financial blockade by major finance companies including Mastercard, Visa and PayPal.
The first step is admitting there’s a problem, and then collectively, people can work towards finding a solution. Fight Club (1999) could be interpreted as an example of how activist groups mobilise to challenge the mainstream. The narrator attends support groups, becomes increasingly disillusioned with consumer culture and through collaborative participation leads to the collapse of several financial buildings. Anonymous who are Internet activists parallel Fight Club, they are a large, decentralized group of individuals who share common interests and coordinate to achieve self-agreed goals. Members don’t talk about their involvement and they conceal their identities. The imagery of the “suit without a head” represents leaderless organization and anonymity. When appearing in public the Internet-based group use the Guy Fawkes mask popularised by V for Vendetta (2006) for ‘collective identification and simultaneous anonymity’ (The BBC, 2011).
Another people-powered movement that utilises the Internet are Occupy Wall Street and the other occupations around the world (occupywallst.org). Organized through a non-binding consensus based collective decision making tool known as a “people’s assembly”. They are fighting back against major banks and multinational corporations, who they believe are responsible for the ‘economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations’. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to fight back against ‘the richest 1% of people that are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future’.
The Internet has become an important political platform, national borders have become much less important and there’s growing organisational complexity in contemporary life. To resolve issues, people need to communicate much more and fulfil promises; the blame culture needs to change before we’re able to move forward. This won’t happen overnight but rather through evolution than revolution.