Radical Instrument

IT is changing the exercise of power. Radical Instrument is picking up the signals.

Cyber-hedonism vs. cyber-activism

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In its most recent edition, The Economist frets that “pleasure-seeking” will outweigh political activism in the activities “young surfers” pursue online, particularly in authoritarian countries.

It’s an exposition of a theme laid out in December by Evgeny Morozov, who’s writing a book on the effects of the Internet on civic engagement, under the auspices of George Soros’ Open Society Institute.

I’m not (yet) convinced. To start, I’d assume that political activism is a minority pursuit no matter where it’s pursued, from contested states in the U.S. Presidential election (where 28% of young voters reported attending a campaign event) to the most repressive autocracies. Certainly, it becomes even more of a minority pursuit where repression’s involved, but should we assume that “hedonism,” whether represented by video gaming, online dating, gambling, pornography, or media will be free of any political color? Or that activism is (or should remain) a completely puritanical business?

As more content becomes user-generated (or user-participative) – and as formerly distinct channels for media consumption and social interaction blur – it’ll be harder to draw bright lines between domains like activism and hedonism (and commerce, for that matter). The smarter activist movements will look to inject politics into entertainment channels like a virus, in ways that will likely be a few steps ahead of any autocrat’s inoculation measures. And as I’m sure Morozov would agree, the smarter autocracies will look to exploit entertainment channels in their own way. I suspect we’re still in for some surprises over the next decade.

P.S. – You can find Morozov’s blog here, now also featured in the blogroll.

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Written by Mark

February 8, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Posted in Random

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