The Internet and other digital media play an important part in the contesting of power, not merely as emerging communication tools, but also in the manner in which it impacts the political, social, economic, and psychological aspects of citizens and society, according to Bennett. His optimism for the potential of these trends is mitigated by a level of uncertainty in forecasting future results of global activism and new media, but his analysis clearly outlines the historic and current trends clearly enough for the reader to appreciate the potential.
This article goes beyond previous ones by identifying a number of new technologies beyond the Internet, such as mobile phones, streaming technology, wireless networks and information-sharing software. This represents a more sophisticated approach to the technology and a greater understanding of the subtle differences between technologies as compared to other readings where technology is lumped into an amorphous gray mass. Bennett ability to clearly outline how networks control and use information to communicate is beyond other critiques. Having read The Politics of Illusion, where he roles out a more comprehensive, detailed analysis of the use of information network to critically examine the dynamics of modern politics, Bennett is able to apply these ideas specifically to the area of global activism in this article. He notes the ability of new technology to organize information for communication to disorganize and disparate groups effectively and efficiently. What is most interesting is how social movements are able to shift identities away from traditional boundaries to create new and dynamic partnership allowing more effective forms of protest or action. He provides several excellent examples, such as the coffee issue, to make his point. Through the compression of time and space, these relationships are very fluid where local, national and transnational organizations are able to form collective resistance. Also the formation of viral communities that are able to spread without any formal organization other than the momentum naturally created by the Internet’s ability to share information quickly, easily and efficiently. While this can be very productive, it can also be harmful, as was the case for the homosexual young man. Also new forms of protest are being created, like culture jamming, which unsettle opponents and provide new ways for activists to express themselves.
Bennett’s arguments are basically the same as other critics of global activism and new technologies. What makes his work unique is the comprehensive understanding of communication and media flows over networks. He is able to shed new light on topics previously dealt with because he understanding the nature of these networks and the postmodern reality of highly fragmented, fluid culture of activists in the 21st century. And, while some have highlighted the accomplishments of these activists, he provides a slightly deeper insight into both the successes and problems this formation creates. This is not a niave technological postivist expounding the virtues of technology, but rather someone who sees how technology can be used. To this end, he is not a technological determinist, seeing a broader picture where numerous factors play towards the success and failure of global activists.
First posted: 7/16/07