[-empyre-] More from DeLappe

Joseph Delappe delappe at unr.edu
Mon Jan 31 05:20:49 EST 2011

My apologies for the long silence - I have been keeping up on the posts and, quite honestly a little overwhelmed by the various interwoven threads.  I neglected, in my last post, to include the link to Wafaa Bilal's 3rdi project: http://www.3rdi.me/

Something Patrick posted just recently I'd like to comment upon at length.

"I think the importance is that infopower has risen mightily, conventional power, as it does not know how to deal with any asymmetrical command and control structure (the infostate not having one), it lashes out with conventional exertions of power, as seen here."

We have all witnessed the growing use of "infopower" in various contexts over the past several years, including the ongoing revolution in Tunis and the ongoing uprising in Egypt.  In this regard, a very interesting article from this morning's NYtimes that notes how many governments including China and Iran, have rapidly adapted to new social media threats to their power by turning the tables on activists and citizens - including using the digital postings on twitter and facebook left by activists and citizens to control and suppress dissent.


I'd be the first to say that I hope, on balance, that the use of Internet as a mechanism for encouraging political change does more harm than good.  Yet it gives one pause to consider the vast potential for the growing sophistication of efforts by governments to utilize such open systems for nefarious control.   It is interesting to note the comments in the article about how some government agencies look at Facebook and Twitter as essential locales for gathering information to create dossiers on political opponents.

This may be a leap, but one sees some parallels in considering the use of social media by American teenagers.  Sherry Turkle makes many fascinating observations in her book "Alone Together" including noting how teens today live in a situation where their lives have become something akin to those of celebrities - everything they do in any given public, and often private situation, could, either through images, videos or texts, become grist for the social media mill.  She notes that many young people function in this mediated context as their very identities are being defined, and perhaps just as importantly, recorded in what is essentially a growing database of personal information online (that arguably never goes away).   Jon & Alison's previous post noting the similarities of Twitter posts to the "logs written by the Stazi officers in former East Germany" come to mind here.

Could, in fact, the expectation of the reach of their internet identities actually become an obstacle for young people to become politically active?  Turkle notes:

"When they talk about the Internet, young people make a disturbing distinction between embarrassing behavior that will be forgiven and political behavior that might get you into trouble...The believe you can apologize for embarrassing behavior and then move on.  Celebrity culture, after all, is all about transgression and rehabilitation....But you can't "take back" political behavior, like signing a petition or being at a demonstration.  One eighteen-year-old puts it this way: 'It [the Internet] definitely makes you think about going to a protest or something.  There would be so many cameras.  You can't tell where the pictures could show up.'"

One is heartened by such examples of young people taking action, such as that earlier cited by Jon:

"... how the student movement in the UK responded last year, to impending radical reformation of Higher Education in the UK in the name of our economic crisis, and how a group of previously politically apathetic art students all woke up in the space of a week or so in a valiant bid to defend the right to affordable education in UK (well England really)."

One cannot help but say that in large part these students in the UK were inspired to protest in their own best interest in light of the threat of a dramatic increase in fees.  Perhaps I am simplifying things a bit but one cannot help but wonder how differently the past ten years in the U.S. might have been had their been a military draft?

I note this in part as I am very interested in considering what might be the flipside of social media and the internet as a means towards political activism.  We are all likely aware of the widely reported results of a long-range study of the level of empathy among college students.  A University of Michigan study collected survey data from 14,000 college students over the past 30 years.  College students today in the US, in responding to questions such as:  "I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective" and "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me."  scored 40% lower in empathy than students from 20 or 30 years ago.  There is of course much speculation as to the reasons for this, ranging from the consideration of violent video games numbing people to the pain of others to the ultimately self-focused nature of so much social media technology.

Here is an article about this from ScienceDaily online:


Not quite sure how to end this post but at this point I will do so.  Time to do my taxes.

Thanks for considering my thoughts!

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