Thursday, April 14, 2011

Where have all the demonstrations gone?

The era of public demonstrations to make social points began (arguably) with the Berkeley Free Speech Movement of 1964. With growing opposition to the Vietnam War, they went national at the end of the decade.

A few years ago I was glad to participate in demonstrations against Bush's deplorable war in Iraq. Unfortunately, that trend fizzled out. Yes, there are demonstrations by union members in Madison WI, but it remains to be seen whether that model will go national. Somewhat bizarrely, the closest we have seen to a national counterpart was the aggressive Tea Party gatherings of two years ago. Maybe the two trends will meld as the economy gets worse, but I doubt it.

The paradox is the the new social media--Facebook and Twitter especially--played a major role in galvanizing street protests in the Arab spring. In the US, though, they seem to have the opposite effect, enhancing physical isolation. Why go out in the streets when one can assemble a little group on Facebook?

As a personal confession, I should say that although I subscribe to Facebook, I do not post on it: there is too much noise and trivia.



Blogger Thomas Kraemer said...

The young college students, who keep me young, tell me that if it doesn't exist in cyber-space then it doesn't exist. It is their new virtual reality. Therefore, a street protest doesn't exist, unless it part of an online stunt.

I think the lack of street protests is due to the fact that young people are neither watching the old TV news medium nor reading print newspapers. Both of these mass media were traditionally good places for street protesters to get free publicity for their message.

The Tea Party street protests still work because they have been driven by old people who still watch TV and read newspapers. Therefore, the archaic street protest method still works for this movement. In addition, the Tea Party agenda overlaps with the self-interests of the corporation that run TV and newspapers today.

Rarely do you see a truly independent-minded editor or TV anchor anymore because they make corporations too nervous. Today, only occasionally will you see a "closeted liberal reporter" who has managed to sneak a report under the radar of his mangers who are worried about losing advertisers due to controversial news reports.

Speaking of virtual reality, one student couldn't understand what I was asking him to do even after I had told him the exact university library building and floor number where he could find an obscure book that would prove his hard-to-believe PhD thesis. He couldn't believe this information wasn't online and therefore, he felt, how could it be important! (I did find a snippet scanned image of the page from a carefully crafted Google Books advanced search. Ironically, this made the student believe this old dusty book was important after all.)

The only reason freedom of speech still exists on the internet today is because politicians and corporation haven't seized control of it yet because it was created by a bunch freedom loving software hippies and military defense guys who designed it to be able to survive a nuclear war, which makes it hard to control by undemocratic forces. I am sure they will overcome these roadblocks to censorship because the success of Apple Computer's "walled garden" business model proves that both governments and corporations could seize control of the internet to stifle protests and communication.

A Tea Party strict constructionist might defend Apple by saying the U.S. Constitution doesn't guarantee freedom of speech on the internet because our founding fathers did not include it in the document.

4:22 PM  

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