Monday, January 9, 2012

Occupy. A difference in kind, not degree.

Cory Doctorow is an author/blogger type chap who quite usually talks about copyright laws - he's a fan of liberalizing them. He gave a talk at the latest Chaos Communication Congress, talking about "the information war to come". It sounds a bit grandiose, but it's worth a listen, he is, as usual, a thought provoking speaker. One observation he made, near the end in the questions, was how with the advent of occupy we're seeing a new type of activism, a change in kind rather than a change in degree of activism. And that it is largely due to the development of networks and communication technology. Sort of obvious right?

One of the charges that has been laid (continuosuly and stupidly) against the occupy movement is that they don't have a set of concrete goals, there's no leadership structure, no central point of contact. Cory suggests that this is becuase we don't have a vocabulary for talking about movements of this sort. 10, 20 years ago, activists had to spend most of their time organising, stuffing envelopes,actually doing the work of communicating with the movement that they were trying to build. Which means that the movement had to be very focused, if you didn't have a very focused goal, after bringing the organisation together, you would find that some people disagreed with some of the goals, you'd end up with schisms, people going home. So over the years, we've constructed the way we talk about protest movements as being organised with specifc goals.
So, Occupy comes along. We get coordinated action across multiple cities - something that previously wouldn't have been possible with out large scale organization. Now, with the ease of computing and communication, no where near enough effort has to be put into the operation of the communication channels. So we can have an Occupy to protest a range of issues. If some disagree on some of the issues, then they can communicate that easily and wander off to the side to have another little Occupy. Which means that we're beginning to see a new type of protest movement - that difference in kind.

The other example he used was Anonymous - I can see the parallels in the nature of the organization that he's talking about. It's an interesting line of thought. And another good reason to be opposed to the idiot copyright laws that continue to laws around the world, which, while they would eventually be routed around, are just going to slow this sort of thing down. It would be better for all concerned if we figured out our new vocabulary for talking about these things rather than dithered about trying to figure out if we're allowed to talk about it.

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