Geographies of Dissent (Final)

Another vantage point on this process is to think of various communities, which share common goals becoming nodes on a network that over time ends up creating and often sustaining a super-network of people pursuing political change. Their overall impact remains rather difficult to understand and assess, not because these nodes are in any way ineffective, but because they cannot be evaluated in isolation from each other.

This notion of networks may allow us to think about communities in a different way. It is, as we know possible at one and the same time for the impulses that guide communities to be progressive and very conservative. There is nothing inherently positive with respect to politics within communities, which are based on shared points of view. But, if the process is more important often, than the content, then this raises other issues. The intersection of connectivity and ideas leads to unpredictable outcomes. Take fan clubs for example. They generally centre on particular stars, films or television shows. They are a form of popular participation in mainstream media and a way of affecting not so much the content of what is produced (although that is happening more and more, Star Trek has continued as a series on the Net) but the relationship of private and public discourse about media products and their impact. Over time, through accretion and sheer persistence, fan clubs have become very influential. They are nodes on a network that connects through shared interests, one of which is to mold the media into a reflection of their concerns.

More often than not this network of connections is presumed to be of greater importance than the content of what is exchanged. This is classically what Baudrillard meant by the world becoming virtual and McLuhan, when he claimed that the medium was the message. Except, that they are both wrong.

The process of exchange, that is the many different ways in which people on shared networks work and play together cannot be analyzed from a behavioral perspective. Take FLICKR for example. There is nothing very complicated about this software. It was developed by two Vancouverites and then bought for 30 million dollars by Yahoo. The software is simple. It allows users to annotate photographs that they have posted to the web site. The annotations become an index and that index is searchable by everyone. The reason Yahoo paid so much is that over 80 million photographs had been uploaded and there were hundreds of communities of interest exchanging images with each other. Most of this is completely decentralized. The web site just hosts the process of community building.

The same elements attracted the News Corporation to and Rupert Murdoch paid over three hundred million dollars for that site or should I say community. Communities become currencies because there are so few ways to organize and understand all of the diversity that is being created within the context of modern-day networks. This is not because the medium is the message; rather, it is because the media are inherently social — social media. And in being social, they reshape modes of human organization and most importantly, the many different ways in which collectivities can form and reform.

(Please note: The last three entries, Geographies of Dissent were presented in a different format at York University, at a conference of the same name.)