Twitter will set you free to Occupy

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at
Mon Jan 9 15:10:49 GMT 2012

Hash: SHA1

So, are the social media a distraction from acting in the real world, or are 
they the platform that creates the network which will enable real-world change?

As we post on lists, forums and update our web sites, I think that's a question 
that should occupy us all! -- are we making something that's "real", or are we 
Narcissae staring into the electronic pond?

Mason's last book, 'Meltdown: The End of the Age of Greed', was quite good, so 
this new one sounds work a look.


Twitter will set you free to Occupy

Erik Curren, Transition Voice, January 9th 2012

I’m pretty conflicted about computers and the Internet these days.

On the one hand, I run an internet magazine, build websites for small businesses 
and local good causes alike and even get paid to help people use Facebook and 
Twitter. It’s fun too, since we all know that the web is the ultimate instant 
gratifier. Where else can you write an article or make a change to a visual 
design and, within minutes, hear back about it from somebody halfway around the 
world? It’s all too easy, it’s all too quick and it’s all too cheap. And the 
reach is broad.

On the other hand, I worry that I spend too much time online under the delusion 
that what I do there matters more than it perhaps it really does. Sensible 
people caution that the “friends” you make while staring at a screen can never 
be very close. Does the online activism you do with these friends really make 
the world a better place?

Weak ties vs strong ties

As Malcolm Gladwell has argued, Tweeting and Facebooking may feel like doing 
something, but real activism requires comrades connected by “strong” bonds in 
the physical world. His example: young black men  in the 1960s were only willing 
to sit in at lunch counters in the South and risk arrest, beatings and worse 
because they grew up in the same towns and their families went to the same 
churches together. It was deep trust built the old fashioned way.

The Occupy movement seems to prove Gladwell wrong, at least according to BBC 
economics editor Paul Mason. Mason’s new book, Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: 
the New Global Revolutions, surveys activist actions and encampments from Tahrir 
to Syntagma Square in Athens to Zuccotti Park and finds that each one was driven 
by a group of overeducated and underemployed young people jacked into technology 
like no revolutionaries since The Matrix.

For Mason, @littlemisswilde, who ran the Occupy Twitter feed at University 
College London and has since become a celebrity blogger, is typical:

    She could write the story of her life through social media, she tells me: 
Bebo as a kid, MySpace as a teenager. Her sisters know nothing else but Facebook 
and move around it frighteningly unconscious that it’s new: “For me it’s second 
nature — I tweet in my dreams. I can’t imagine where it’s going next, but it’s 
completely inseparable from my personality. In the future, when a child is born, 
it will be given a Twitter account.”

The network will triumph in the end

Mason makes a good case that without social media’s ability to offer a democratic 
alternative to TV and other media controlled by oppressive regimes, the 
upheavals of 2011 might not have happened at all. Even further, Mason predicts 
that social media is now creating a global network effect that may be activists’ 
most powerful tool in the future.

Sounding like a tech start-up CEO speaking at a TED conference, Mason posits 
that a network, such as a group of youth activists connected by social media, 
will always defeat a hierarchy like a repressive government or a big 
corporation. Already, he writes, the prevalence of various networks online and 
off has started “to erode power relationships that we had come to believe were 
permanent features of capitalism: the helplessness of the consumer, the 
military-style hierarchy of boss and underlings at work, the power of mainstream 
media empires to shape ideology, the repressive capabilities of the state and 
the inevitability of monopolization by large corporations.”

Inspired by the open-source software movement, Mason goes on to predict that 
hyperlinked activism could help create a new kind of evolved human consciousness 
in the future that’s more about sharing than owning and could help solve some of 
the world’s biggest problems, starting with the liberation of the 99%.
What about the limits to growth?

As a guy who already feels guilty for the eight or ten hours a day, six days a 
week, that I spend online, it’s hard for me to follow Mason quite this far. But 
when I also consider that  the physical limits to human expansion on a finite 
planet could make global economic growth at current rates difficult to maintain in 
coming years, I wonder if the world will continue to become ever more wired. Is 
it posible instead that communications advances may slow, stop or even reverse 
as the economy comes under pressure from climate change, peak oil and other 
natural limits to human growth?

Mason doesn’t sound too worried. Though he briefly alludes to a coming energy 
crisis, Mason seems to agree with @littlemisswilde that fetuses of the future 
will Tweet from the womb.

But the wired activists that Mason celebrates are able to imagine and even 
desire a lower-tech world. Many young people have responded to the youth 
unemployment that Mason finds to be a key motivator to Occupy — running as high 
as Spain’s 46% — not by occupying urban public spaces but by at least partially 
opting out of corporate-run consumer culture through simple living, urban 
homesteading or the Transition movement.

Other young people, such as the farmers profiled in the film The Greenhorns, have 
gone even further and have decided to get the heck out of Dodge.  Young farmers 
may still keep up their Twitter feed. But if you listen to today’s back-to-the-
landers, transcendence will not come via the Borg but by getting dirt under 
their fingernails, installing a wood stove or growing heirloom tomatoes.
Escape from New York

Mason is correct that Occupy is essentially an urban movement, staged like most 
traditional dissent in the global megacities “in which reside the three tribes 
of discontent — the youth, the slum-dwellers and the working class.” But to 
achieve the goal of Occupy, to free the 99% from control by the 1%, it won’t be 
enough to take back urban space. We need to occupy the countryside too.

Perhaps unquestioned dominance of the city over rural areas is a problem that 
Occupy should address. After all, farms, villages and small towns are where most 
humans lived before the rise of industrial capitalism. And as John Michael Greer 
recently argued so convincingly in his book The Wealth of Nature, the 
countryside is where the source of all real economic value in the economy 
originates. The city is merely a place to collect the products of nature and 
turn them into money.

Remembering this self-evident truth, I wonder if the time I spend online 
publishing, re-Tweeting, friending and liking is very well spent. And if a man 
as wise as Wendell Berry still refuses to type his manuscripts on a computer, 
then I can’t help but be skeptical that social media will do much to make us 
better people.

However, Mason is right that social media can help those who care about politics 
become much better informed and provide an egalitarian and supportive community 
based on sharing. So I’m willing to be convinced that the network effect may have 
some beneficial effect on human consciousness, even if a person who wants to be 
whole can’t live on Tweeting alone.

And even if you don’t share Mason’s enthusiasm for technology, his book provides 
a useful overview of 2011′s greatest hits in activism,  filled with many 
fascinating clarifications on that important recent history (fact: no lovers of 
democracy, the Egyptian military had its own self-interested reason for 
supporting the students who ousted Mubarak). Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere 
shouldn’t be missed by anyone who cares about the Occupy movement.

- -- 


"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burrough, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

Paul's book, "Energy Beyond Oil", is out now!
For details see

Read my 'essay' weblog, "Ecolonomics", at:

Paul Mobbs, Mobbs' Environmental Investigations
3 Grosvenor Road, Banbury OX16 5HN, England
tel./fax (+44/0)1295 261864
email - mobbsey at
website -
public key -

Version: GnuPG v2.0.16 (GNU/Linux)


More information about the Diggers350 mailing list