Wednesday, April 21, 2010

'Point of No Return'

Ramadhan Pohan is a member of Indonesia's Parliment.  In Norimitsu Onishi's 20 April NYTimes article "In Indonesia, the Internet Emerges as a (Too?) Powerful Tool," Pohan is quoted as suggesting that "[old-style politicians and bureaucrats] don't realize that in terms of democracy and freedom of expression, we've reached a kind of point of no return," referring to recent political activity in Indonesia taking place on . . . Facebook and Twitter.  Onishi outlines four different instances where social networking altered the political course in Indonesia, which has the third greatest number of Facebook users (behind the US and the UK).

Readers of Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody will not be surprised.  Nor will the young people of Moldova, who used Twitter to rally an anti-government rally of several thousand last year (follow the link to read Nathan Hodges even-handed analysis in Wired).

None of this seems random.  As someone who has organized events in the past, I am always interested in how people are finally drawn into an action.  Moving from "interested" to "acting" is a major leap.  Something about social media, it seems, motivates connected people to make that leap.

Long ago, I discarded the Field of Dreams adage that "if you build it, [they] will come."  Experience has shown me time and time again that simply building something (an event, a gathering, a blog!) does not ensure that people will actually appear.

Through social media, there is a group of people who have built the types of relationships that we who aspire to community organizing desire.  Social media is the conduit for this group of people to learn each other's self-interest and then to act on that knowledge to create "happenings" (with a nod to Geoff Sirc)  that draw people into the action.

(Speaking of Sirc, after meeting with him a few years ago about student writing, my colleague Gill Creel and I came away with an apt aphorism: follow the fun.  Social media is one of the places where the fun is happening.)

Check out the new research offered at the Pew Center for the Internet and American Life.  Young people use their cell phones as a texting machine more frequently than they use it to make telephone calls (unless they are calling their parents).   They are motivated communicators.

I still use my cell phone for the banal telephone conversation (I don't even use texting).  I still use email as my primary mode of communication with others.  That said, I am trying.  I have a blog (but so few people respond that I feel like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills).  I created a Facebook site (and my 17-year old does NOT want me as a Facebook "friend").  I tweet - rarely - on Twitter, but if this blog feels quixotic, Twitter feels positively surreal: I am on top of a hill yelling "Hellloooooo . . ." to millions of fellow twitterians, waiting for a response. I could wait a long time.

For all of this (what is this? indifference? rejection? ineffectual use of the medium - that's my guess), I still want to find out what's happening here.  Somethin's cookin', no doubt.

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