July 15, 2007


In a recent Grauniad Johnathan Freedland mulls rather haplessly over what the web might do to politics and political communities, and concludes that it "risks shattering what was once a collective mass. That could undermine the power of people to act as a counterweight to governments and big corporations. If we are all broken into small units — 'parties of one', as a web guru puts it — we will lose that combined strength".

True enough, in its own way, but it misses the point that what the web does is more radical than that — we don't lose mass movements because of it, we in fact gain mass movements; but they're usually evanescent mass movements based on much less stable alliances and rather different ways of (mis)communicating shared grievances, identities, and ideologies than the old models… and there's several orders of magnitude more of them. Here today, gone tomorrow, flash mob mass politics: this might be unsettling to politics in the Modern mould, but (for good or for bad) thoroughly recognisable to that dated cliche, the Postmodern mind (the net is postmodernity without the twee irony; yes, I've said that before…).

The web doesn't destroy community, it creates the means to belong to an infinite variety of communities, based not so much on location or physical attributes as virtual, arbitrary, or even (quite literally) imaginary attributes; ditto for mass movements. Whether these are real or authentic communities or mass movements is an interesting question for someone, but not a question that's going to get in the way of anything much out there in the real virtual world.

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