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January 4, 2012 / glencoyote

The Mind Without a Voice is a Black Hole

Finished reading The Information, by James Gleick and it is terrific. An astonishingly clear exposition of the information age filled with odd people, interesting stories and big ideas that will make you forget to close your mouth. Through the gauzy sensation of intelligence bestowed, you might emerge having only the most ephemeral, if tantalizing idea of what your newfound knowledge consists. Except that metaphor is seductive. In that spirit I will proceed with my ignorance unshackled.

Time Magazine declares that the “2011 Person of the Year” is the “Protester.”

 “Technology mattered, but this was not a technological revolution. Social networks did not cause these movements, but they kept them alive and connected. Technology allowed us to watch, and it spread the virus of protest, but this was not a wired revolution; it was a human one, of hearts and minds, the oldest technology of all.”

Well of course it was human. Understanding the crucial role of communications and information technology does not require the use of robots. The drone is the provenance of empire. But hearts need to beat as one, and minds need to share information, if emotion and insight are to be converted into power.

“All things physical are information-theoretic in origin, and this is a participatory universe.” – John Archibald Wheeler (Gleick 10)

What would an information theory of democracy look like? If we assume that the heart of political theory is information theory then power can be measured as the robustness of the network. Prior to the rapid spread of personal digital communications control of the state implied command and control of information. Political hierarchy as a one-sided, unidirectional information flow. But the combined effect of WikiLeaks information extraction and social media driven information sharing, although far short of leveling the playing field, has at least brought into play a broader, more swiftly moving democratic community. Building the network becomes central to building democracy, the network itself seeking to morph into the institutional form of democracy.

Conflict is the way a political system communicates that information flows are blocked. Social change occurs when the impeded information flows prove to be more useful, richer, and more powerful than the blocking forces.  As digital communications – social media – progresses the organizational possibilities emerge and, perhaps converge in the way that Paul Hawkins suggests. Meanwhile, Fox News and mainstream media are seen as rearguard actors, vamping the old information, desperately attempting to subvert the new.

The self-awareness of citizens, whether of the corruption of ruling elites or of increasing economic inequality, galvanize national actions and global connections. That we are still very much at the beginning of this process is evident in the tension between community and liberty in U.S. political discourse. Is the global gateway an opening to enlightenment or an unguarded doorway to terror? Is Facebook our friend or is the loss of privacy our ondoing? Who are the philosophers of the digital age?

Cory Doctorow has given the thumbs up! My tabs have Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, YouTube, Ted, and Reader open so the command post for revolution is ready for business: Build the Network – Manage the Information – Change the World!

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