Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Technological advancement, mindsharing, Infoanarchism and how it may affect the political landscape.

So I seemed to have got involved in a discussion about recent changes in political culture, some people saying that they do see a change in political culture, and some people saying absolutely not, we then moved onto why there seemed to be a changed in political culture, and I suggested that it was due to the idea of mindsharing, technological advancements and most particularly infoanarchism.

At this point maybe I think its best I give a rundown of what I mean by the 2 terms I'm throwing about here, as to some they may seem a little odd. The chances are if you've used the web you've used an info anarchist site, or a mindshare, or both, and many people regularly use them on a daily basis and they've infiltrated silently into your life. Beginning with the concept of a 'mindshare', the term basically refers to social network plaforms, the term is coined (in my view) because it enables you to put whats on your mind out in public, and enables you to influence others, in the same respect other people can put whats on their mind and influence you, a prime example is something like facebook, myspace etc, somewhere where you can communicate and share ideas.

Now infoanarchist theory is an interesting one, it doesn't relate to a 'movement' in the way that you use a term like 'anarchist', instead it relates more to a principle of anonymous information sharing, according to wikipedia the term was first coined in an TIME magazine article about Ian Clarke, who took lead role in designing Freenet, which was an early anonymous information sharing resource. So looking at how this has developed over the period of time since freenet was first launched, what types of infoanarchy sites do we have today? Well the first and probably the most newsworthy is wikileaks, a site where anyone can submit information regardless of how secret its meant to be, also the copycat sites that opened in the wake of wikileaks (balkanleaks, indoleaks, openleaks...... just to name a few). Another thing that comes under the umbrella of infoanarchism is the rejection of the principle of copyright (something I have to say I am not in favour of), however if you use P2P sharing, then chances are you are undertaking activities relating to the infoanarchist principles.

So how does all this affect the political landscape
Well this part basically works on my assumption (and I think its an assumption that many people would take if they thought about it) that a democratic government is by principle always at the will of the general consensus of the majority (the public). So how does technology become involved in the empowerment of people? Well I think its safe to say that one of the most drastic changes to our world in the last half century, was the invention of a protocol and microchips that allowed data to be transferred by copper wiring, starting with 0's and 1's, moving onto letters and characters and eventually onto multimedia (where we are today) and its undisputable that the whole process is much much faster than it was when first invented. This is important because we no longer had to discuss politics as a conversation with the right person at the right time, nor did we have to arrange to meet an organisation who shared similar views as us, but we could read and write our views 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and as long as there was no problems with the server it was held on, then it would remain there for others to see, and for others to comment on.

This is where social media comes in, social media does a number of things, firstly it lets us communicate, secondly it brings us together under the interests and thoughts that we share. Research into internet usage and its reltionship to advertising clearly shows that infact we dont actually interact online according to our demographic values, but we actually interact online based on our shared interests, regardless of gender, ages, ethnicity, because those things need to be visible to be realised, where as text will always come without the inihibitions that we have in real life. So the obvious point to make here is that we actually unknowingly influence each other with our political values when we post that BBC link on facebook.

Now lets be clear, I'm not saying this era of political dissent is something new, we had strikes, marches, direct action all through the past centuries, however in the period before the internet these were organised by unions, organisations and small groups, brought together more by the environment that they shared , where you'd have to organise a meeting, build consensus before even considering the action, and even then you'd still be combatting the media who would edit a story to put their particular spin or agenda to it.

So theory is all very well, but what does this mean in 'real' terms?
Well in real terms I guess that these technological principles have actually filled a void that was left behind after the devolution of our heavy industries and the communities that went with them. For a long period of time England had a massive heavy industry, and with any huge workforce there would be a union campaigning in the interests of the workers that subscribed to it. Whilst we still have unions, with the lack of heavy industries, in the modern age unions seem to support 'professions', so whilst the unions campaign for fairer deals in our professions we have time to read and formulate opinion, then I can share it with others. For example, I see something on wikileaks, I post it to facebook so my friends see it, they start commenting and we discuss it, whilst this is going on Ill search for a group who oppose this kind of thing, find out what they're doing, then post that on facebook for other people to see. Whilst the technology hasnt actually changed what we're doing, it has drastically altered the accessibility of information (regardless of whether its reported in the news, or whether its in a pure unfiltered form on a site like wikileaks), it has sped up how fast the information travels, we see video from protests here and abroad in nearly realtime, we can comment, and those who need to can quickly recruit, plan and re-organise. In short the technological aspects of what I'm talking about have essentially made self empowerment a fast, free, easy process, and enables us to do this outside the environ limitations we faced in the past.

So what does this mean for the future?
This I think is the complicated part, the two sides to the story I think are that developments like this will either unify or fragment society, we'll either come together as a few big masses possibly standing for different things, but strong in our numbers, or lots of fragmented groups standing for a multitude of different things (in some respects almost causing a more anarchic way of life). The most important thing to remember is that you have the power of free speech, you have the ability to share that with others worldwide, you are able to contribute to the future of information sharing and politics, and that politicians ought to be aware that the information generation will and can make decisions for themselves and will always be stronger than the governments trying to temper them.

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