This is a visualization of what the world wide web looks like at a particular point in time. The box might represent the places on the net that you frequent. Since the internet is always changing, connections and social/information networks are being created and modified from moment to moment. This picture would look noticeably different if you were to look at it in even one second's difference in time.
Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions by Paul Mason, Verso Press, London
Paul Mason would say that the very fact that you're reading this is an indication that you're already an active participant in the revolution that has been overtaking the planet. Twenty years ago, such a thing as Open Salon would have been inconcievable. And with mobile phones, instant messaging, tweets, and Facebook -- the internet has become a vital part of more than 50% of the world's population.
Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere is an interesting blend of journalism and sociology. Mason covers the front lines of demonstrations in London, Athens, Cairo, and Occupy Wall Street among other places. But he also gives fascinating insights about the power of our newfound global interconnectedness.
In the concept of networks for example, the more people that use a network -- the more powerful and useful it becomes for everyone. Networks allow for free collaborative efforts in ways that were never possible before. Think of Wikipedia or Wikileaks. And the ocean of information at our fingertips makes research and fact checking infinitely easier than ever. Mason says, it's as if every subject has the equivalent of being able to use a calculator for mathematics.
It's easy to dismiss a lot of what's on the net as nothing more than cute cat pictures or people trying to hook up with one another in some kind of romantic situation. But think of the political implications of the global interconnectedness of the internet. I will refer you to PFC. Bradley Manning as a case in point. He has just been sentenced to multiple counts of unauthorized release of sensitive government documents in what later became known as Wikileaks. But Manning's revelations about the informal behind the scenes conduct of American foreign policy was one of the factors that led up to the Arab Spring.
Manning's revelations swept through the Middle East like wildfire, creating immediate ripples against long entrenched regimes. In Tunisia, a college educated fruit peddler set himself on fire to protest the lack of jobs, government corruption, and its authoritarian rule. This in turn set off a chain reaction that involved thirteen countries in that area. The world is now monitoring the situation in Syria. And the Syrian civil war would not have happened were it not for the events in Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.
And of course, the events of the Arab Spring influenced the United States with the populist fight in Wisconsin and Occupy Wall Street. What Mason says in Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere is that the net has become the greatest political organizing tool ever produced by mankind. Other revolutions like 1848 or the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 were in part caused by technological changes. But up until now, there has never been a technology so well adapted for the spontaneous use of people power.
Mason would also add that stagnating economic conditions, coupled with highly educated young people with virtually no future and with the ability to monitor in real time the events that are taking place all over the world has produced a mixture that will radically transform society within the next ten years.
A skeptic might rightly criticize this line of thought by saying, " Well yes, it's true that the internet has connected the planet together in a way that it's never been connected before. And granted, it has even significantly changed the way people think. But, has either this interconnectedness or the political affects really changed the existing power structure? I haven't seen any changes in power relations in society lately in favor of democracy. In fact, it looks as if the elite is even more in control now than it was a few years ago."
I think that both Paul Mason and I would have the same answer, and that is that now popular social movements for democracy rocket around the world like a pinball, and this is symptomatic of the power of the internet. The internet has unleashed the potential of individual ideas and thoughts, which receive almost instant validation or rejection in part due to the ease of fact checking on the net. The validation that comes when a million people like a particular political item or cause on Facebook for example is easily translated into massive pressure for a government to respond. And the instant approval of a political message is also based on the fact that lies and disinformation are much easier to unmask now than ever before because of the same technology.
To be sure, no one knows why one revolution succeeds or fails. Nor is there any reliable predictor of when protest movements will metastasize. Why for example, did the revolution succeed in Algeria and Tunisia, and less so elsewhere. Why did Occupy Wall Street fizzle out as a highly visible entity?
While the spark that sets off the forest fire may be unpredictable, the odds increase every day for progress to be made -- oftentimes small and isolated to one minor part of one policy area or another. But in the long run, the tide is ever more in our favor. The rapidly approaching runway of catastrophic climate change, the demographics of a more multicultural America, and the intense focus and competency of young people from high school to their 30s all mean that the odds will be more and more in the favor of genuine societal change in the next ten years.
Our collective condition now is that individual leaders, issues, and even movements are becoming more chimerical, flexible, and fungible. Just as the net shifts from second to second, the process of citizien involvement becomes more quicksliver and fluid. Because of their hierarchical, bureaucratic nature, governments have been forced to adapt to this new reality. And the potential for change grows.
Our current period of foment is most closely related to the revolutions of 1848 in Europe, where people throughout the continent rebelled against the old and creaky monarchical system that people with democratic sentiments labored under. The revolts of 1848, like the revolts now -- were national in character. And Mason points out that both now and then were periods of great technological change. Mason has demonstrated that the technology has already promoted a much larger and more significant change than what my generation accomplished in the 1960s and 1970s.
But the question still remains, how are we going to accomplish our highest aspirations and change the seemingly unchangeable situation in Washington, DC and elsewhere in the world. I have a book in Part III that may provide some of those answers.