Sunday, April 25, 2010
Internet and social revolutions
What is different about the Internet compared to other communication mediums when one considers the dynamics of social mass movements? A social movement is the alignment of peoples’ actions according to a new system of values, beliefs, or a new ideology. Before the movement becomes obvious to an observer, before one can notice a new behavioral pattern, it is necessary for the new values system to spread throughout society, and to be adopted by a critical number of individuals. Notice that there are two important components in this process: the spread of information and its acceptance by different individuals.
Concerning the first, there is no much else to say about the efficacy of the Internet technology in spreading information or about its supremacy over all the other means of communication. Not only that, but the Internet is inherently democratic, giving a voice to everyone, rich and poor.
The second component, the adoption of the new ideas, must be examined a little closer in order to reveal the impact of the Internet on social movements. Take two modes of communication: one-to-many and one-to-one. An example of one-to-many communication is a person speaking to a crowd, say Martin Luther JR. King giving his I have a dream speech. The most obvious example of one-to-one communication would be two individuals directly speaking to each other, a form of two-ways synchronous communication, or an individual reading a book, a form of one-way asynchronous communication between the writer and the reader. In both cases we have on one side the teacher, or the person spreading the new ideas, and on the other side the uninitiated crowd or the individual(s) receiving the new teachings. If we consider the receiver, we can easily accept the fact that his/her receptivity is influenced by what others have to say about the message of the teacher. In general, you have a greater chance to convince someone of anything if you are talking to this person alone. In a crowd, if the message is somewhat controversial, if it threatens only a few vocal individuals, their reactions can influence the way others interpret the message, by seeding doubts in their minds. The dynamics of the crowd can help the speaker only when a majority already accepts the message, because the general approval puts pressure on the skeptics who fill themselves rejected. But here we are interested in social revolution and the social movements that make it happen. We are talking about disruptive social changes, which almost always stems from originally controversial ideas. Well, most of the information consumed on the Internet is asynchronous one-to-one or many-to-one. On the receiver side we have one individual alone, which makes this individual much more receptive to the new ideas.
Social movements are much more dynamic today because information is usually transmitted through the Internet to a single receiver at the time, and also because the Internet is the most efficient medium of communication ever implemented. Moreover, the number of those spreading the information is also increased, as new adepts possess all the means (affordable communication tools) to become effective teachers. Furthermore, the Internet is not only a communication platform; it also acts as a coordination and collaboration platform. The growth rate and the coherence acquired by social movements today surpass the capacity of any means to suppress them in the arsenal of those in power.