05 August 2010

Webism: The Internet as Social Movement

The wonderful ChangeThis.com re-enters my life with their latest 'manifesto' The Internet as Social Movement, (lifted from issue 9 of n+1, a twice-yearly print journal of politics, literature, and culture).

Reading it reminded me of my own, far less eloquent post, Transparency, openness, trade and politics, where I tried to question the motives and consequences of our efforts to change the status quo in education..

The Internet as Social Movement, or Webism for short, asks the same question. With a brilliant introduction that paints the picture of the chaotic, crazy and seemingly empty claims of a web2 type revolution, it quietens tone with a tragic looks back to the Bolshevik revolution in early 20th century Russia.

Alexander Blok was enchanted by the Bolshevik Revolution. The leading poet of the pre-revolutionary symbolist school, Blok and his pale handsome face had been freighted in the years before 1917 with all the hopes and dreams of the Russian intelligentsia. In early 1918, when that intelligentsia was still making fun of the crudeness, the foolishness, the presumption of the Bolsheviks—the way contemporary intellectuals once made fun of Wikipedia—Blok published an essay urging them to cut it out. “Listen to the Revolution,” he counseled, “with your bodies, your hearts, your minds.”

Three years later, Blok was dead, and Vladimir Mayakovsky, the tribune of the Revolution, wrote his obituary. “Blok approached our great Revolution honestly and with awe,” Mayakovsky wrote. But it was too much for him: “I remember, in the first days of the Revolution, I passed a thin, hunched-over figure in uniform warming itself by a fire near the Winter Palace. The figure called out to me. It was Blok. We walked together. . . . I said, ‘How do you like it?’ ‘It’s good,’ said Blok, and then added: ‘They burned down my library.’”
The Net: The Unabomber, LSD and the Internet The 'manifesto' goes on the explain the Internet as a social revolution in a linear fashion, much the same way that the documentary The Net: The Unabomber, LSD and the Internet does.




The manifesto then finishes with:
The mistake that many supporters of the Bolsheviks made was to think that, once the old order had been abolished, the new order would be fashioned in the image of the best of them rather than the worst. But the revolution is not just something you carry inside you; the web is not your dream of the web. It is a real thing, playing out its destiny in the world of flesh and steel—and pixels, and books. 
And perhaps most chillingly for me:
At this point the best thing the web and the book could do for one another would be to admit their essential difference. This would allow the web to develop as it wishes, with a clear conscience, and for literature to do what it’s always done in periods of crisis: keep its eyes and ears open; take notes; and bide its time.
Where I would replace "books" and "literature" with academia and education...

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