We need a course correction. The world is changing and technology is introducing new ways of distributing power and ideas. In some ways a correction is inevitable. Then only question is what direction we’re going to pick.
In times of great technological change options become available that simply weren’t possible before. Fortunes are made and lost, businesses pivot and react, politicians opine, preachers stir up anxiety and the clever take advantage of the shifting situation.
It is unlikely that extant systems of power are going to facilitate an orderly transfer from the old networks of family and corporate control. You can see that in action in the lawsuits vomited out of the RIAA and MPAA and other bastions of rapidly disintegrating leverage. You can see it in the consolidation of broadcast media. You can see it in the rigidity of polarized politics solidified by data driven gerrymandering and campaigning. The old power structures know a fire sale when they see it and they are stocking up.
The correction is unlikely to come from tea party rallies or professional agitators. They are tools of traditional power and were a useful distraction that gave the media something to talk about other than what was really going on.
Our society is a tangle of legacy systems, spaghetti code and undocumented APIs that far too many people rely on to ever expect a major rewrite. We will see the same sort of patches that we’re applied in Teddy Roosevelt’s emergency scripts. Those later formed the base of FDRs major framework upgrade. If we’re lucky, we’ll get something like LBJ’s Great Society expansion pack. Republicans want to fork the whole thing for a stripped down system where everything is static and private. Nobody is going to sign off on any of that, so we’re just going to creak by with occasional emergency patches and more committees sent off to draw up a spec that will never get implemented.
So how are things going to get corrected this time? This time it’s up to the users. Users are pragmatists. Users aren’t interested in reading manuals or getting nagged about upgrading all the time. If they have to, they’ll patch together excel documents and screenshots and MS Paint drawings, but they’ll get it done.
One example of this is the Occupy Wall Street movement. The goals of this movement have been endlessly debated. The powers that be are exasperated because they can’t figure out how to make these people just go away. Lately they’ve tried police raids and talk radio mockery. The occupiers remain infuriatingly inscrutable. If they won’t offer solutions, why should we pay attention?
The point is paying attention. The point of the movement is to get in the way. For years dissent has been marginalized as the sphere of acceptable opinion has lurched further and further to the right. Media personalities are incentivized to confuse and distract. Even now the bobbing heads on cable news are spreading rumors that the Occupiers are having sex in public and defecating on the sidewalks. They hope to dehumanize the occupiers and keep the hoi polloi from identifying with their fellow citizens.
The movement has remained peaceful and undistracted. They remain encamped in the shadow of power. A power that betrays its nervousness in sporadic outbursts of state violence.
Will the occupy movement change anything? I doubt it will directly. It has changed the discussion and radicalized a lot of pepper sprayed citizens. I think most importantly it has given us an object lesson in power.
Who is defended, who is beaten, who is heard, who is silenced… by speaking up and demanding an answer in the public sphere the occupy movement has laid bare the priorities of the 1% and their government.
What we do with that information is anyones guess. The only thing we know is that the future will be a lot different than now. That’s not prophecy, just recognizing the turbulent transitions that are shuddering through every human institution.
We’ll be living in that future. It’s up to us to decide what life will look like and what organizations will survive. We have the tools and the information to build a sustainable and human centered future. Of course, we also have the tools to oppress and exploit each other. What we decide to do with these tools will be a matter of loud and contentious discussion in our streets, government halls and media. The most important thing you can do is be part of that discussion.