A (Relatively) Brief Synopsis of
The Revolution Will Be Webcast:
Democratizing the Media Landscape

Important Disclaimer:
Daily, we are all so inundated with messages about technology (being "sold" to us in the financial and cultural sense) -- technology that is mostly useless, harmful, or fluff -- that it is very hard to avoid a negative knee-jerk reaction when we hear new ideas about activism which use technology in central, fundamental ways.

The technology fluff is Corporate America telling us how wonderful it is to buy pizza over the internet or to use broadband for accessing 1,234 channels of glitzy, intellectually zero-calorie corporate media. Technology fluff activism includes conspiracy theories that a secret government program exists that has found "free energy" which is bing kept hidden away from us.

However technology is just a fancy word for "tools" -- your phone, and even your pencil, or bicycle, are technology. Using tools as a way to have a more powerful impact is anything but technophilia or fluff. The author (moi) does not own a cellphone, but using one during a demonstration to better coordinate -- or even, take digital photos, or soon, to instantly upload those photos to the internet so that cops snatching or smashing the camera doesn't work-- is precisely using tools to enhance activism.

The answer to a qustion we sometimes get ("this is interesting, but shouldn't we focus on political organizing rather than technology?") should now be evident: political organizing is the precise point of my article. After all, it's not about us sitting down and setting up a technology factory, is it? Rather, it's about planning creative uses (read: grassroots political organizing) which, by employing technology in an innovative way, enhance our power, our effectiveness, our reach in public education and mutual networking, our ability to pressure those in power, and our ability to foster new institutions and organizations.

Doing these things is precisely about organizing. Far from being a "technology instead of grassroots organizing" project, it is precisely a a proposal offering ways of enhancing such grassroots activism. And we need to plan ahead (see "archer" metaphor below).

Technologically, what I describe will certainly happen -- whether it is used in neutral, negative, or positive ways, remains open. My point is the left needs to do organizing (and coalitions between activist groups) around it. When I sounded the call in 1992 about the usefulness of email and other aspects of the internet, for activism and outreach, a few organizations started using it a year or two earlier than they probably would have as a result of my 1992 piece Electronic Activism, and my followup "pestering" them. Now I'm sounding the call again. Better that we get started doing political organizing and coalition building around it, and in preparation for it now, rather than later.

And now...
A (Relatively) Brief Synopsis of
The Revolution Will Be Webcast
Democratizing the Media Landscape

By Harel B.

There is more than one message in "The Revolution Will Be Webcast" so it's hard to distill, but if one had to distill it down it would be as follows:

First and foremost, it makes the point that there is the possibility for a qualitative change in alternative media reach. Why "qualitative"? Consider this: right now one can sit down in front of one's computer and click on a listen-on-demand or even a "stream" (perhaps even live stream) of audio over the internet, or even video, given bandwidth. As BBC reports (a few statistics are on our website), broadband is growing very quickly. But that is only a quantitative change. Why "quantitative"?

It would certainly be wonderful be to have 10 million or even more brand new people theoretically able to hear Amy Goodman or CounterSpin than are currently able to due to private radio stations choosing not to carry it -- it would be wonderful to be able to just "put it on the air" via internet without having to beg, or pressure, or ask permission from corporate radio.

But that's just a "quantitative" difference: people would still need to sit down in front of their computers. That's an issue of not only time but of convenience and how "natural" it is to the familiar and conditioned habits people have. This extra "overhead" would still be a problem. What would a qualitative difference look like?

To answer that question, we can ask, "how do people listen to the radio today?" The answer is, either through something plugged in at home like a stereo, or something portable like a walkman (or boombox) or in their car.

Ok then: that's how people are comfortable (and, in terms of habit, used to) when listening to the radio.

Now, the first fundamental point of Webcast is that a qualitative change in what media democracy activists can achieve is coming, because, emerging technologies will allow us to create grassroots/activist broadcasting -- sans corporate gatekeepers, much cheaper, and with huge audience potential -- which also (and this is the key-- such that people can "tune in" to our shows in the exact, same, 'natural' ways. That is a qualitative shift -- assuming we can help birth it, and accelerate its coming.

People will be able to listen to radio which is broadcast over the internet via more advanced versions of "walkmen", "stereos" and "car stereos". Some of this is actually present tense. To avoid losing the forest for the trees (indeed, EconomicDemocracy.org tries not to spend too much of our time following the 'trees') we'll keep this to a minimum, but for example, there is already the plug-in home stereo version, Philips' "Streamium MC-i200". It's clunky in some ways, true, not 100% free in terms of what you can tune to, etc, but already here in 2003, years before the Webcast articles's semi-arbitrary "2005" for when these things would really start to strongly emerge. The "clunky" part will go away, the price will come down, and freedom will come: either the corporations do it, or via activist hackers, since the technology is here.

In late 1999 when I started writing Webcast, I doubt someone at Circuit City would have responded with other than boggled eyes had I inquired about such future capabilities in a "walkman" type device (namely via cell phones or handhelds) Today, (pricier) models are out of course where you can surf the web. I asked very recently at a Circuit City, what about "really easily being able to listen to live audio streams off the internet off your cell-phone, from anywhere?"

Without blinking an eye, he said, that's coming, but he added, showing technical understanding, they need storage for "buffering" the audio for a smooth listen, and added, hard-drives, perhaps 1-gigabyte in size, would be coming -- and that he understands the next wave of cell-phones will be much, much more powerful. So my "2005" may have been too conservative for "internet radio via walkman-like device" with 2004 being quite possible. (http://EconomicDemocracy.org/forums in addition to links to our discussion forums, has links to various related news items)

Will it take till 2008, 2009, or 2010 to really be "prime time"? Who knows... Certainly some level will be here within 3 years, then accelerating in following years. The exact timing? "Who knows?!" But we shouldn't wait in terms of planning, strategy, and launching projects -- projects, after all, for this scale and size, need years to launch anyway-- we shouldn't sit on our hands and wait until it's "100% ready for prime time."

That's the main point, distilled at much as possible: this qualitative change which, if we are smart about it, and prepare, organize, and think strategically about this, could help us create 7- 8- or even 9-digit sized potential audiences for our "alternative" media.

Other, related threads of thought in Webcast include the idea that more focus should be placed on this very exciting potentiality; though we think it's still critical, less time percent-wise on pressuring corporations, and more on creating what we want, less on begging/pressuring "them" to give us what we want -- or for them to give a few more hours to anti-war, so it's 95% rather than 98.5% pro-war coverage (is that worth endless hours of media activism? Would that really stop the next war?) We need to think strategically, ahead, as noted in Webcast:

"Just as an archer needs to aim her arrow above the target in order to hit the intended mark, so too today's planning, outreach, organizing, and coalition building for activist projects that realistically will require not less than 5 years to realize, need to be informed by an understanding of the media landscape of 2005-2009 in order to win the fullest victories possible in the struggle for media democracy and empowerment."

Webcast then suggests that, to the extent we succeed in utilizing this new potential, new problems (at a higher plane so to speak) emerge: funding; getting people to know of our stations' existence; and getting the mainstream public to want to keep listening to us when they find us.

Of course, we would be very lucky to have these problems (as the U.S. would be lucky to have Canada's healthcare problems) but let's get to that "lucky problem" point as suggested by the first point.

And, on the question of how to address these "luck problems" such as funding as well as keeping audiences, I offer a few thoughts in Webcast; and elaborate in followup pieces.

We should also note well: the "other side" has taken interest in these possibilities inherent in these emerging technologies. Consider this quote from one of them:

"We all know how libertarian and conservative views, having been squeezed out of the mainstream media, have flowered on the internet, to the extent that some even argue that they dominate the medium..With that in mind, the next logical development, as best I can see, is for a number of these voices to move up to internet radio. Indeed, I note with delight that some already have. How auspicious that, just as a tactical move from typing to talking may be afoot, along comes a consumer durable product that will enable internet radio to explode the way analogue broadcast radio did a century ago"

That's it in a nutshell, the overview, the strategic vision, and what I think is the compelling case for action now. Surely it will happen without us pushing, but why not speed it up, and do it sooner, smarter, and better?

For those interested, I plan to followup with an email of just short bullet-points of suggestions on how to proceed. I then would hope that others will contribute constructive feedback, your support, ideas, links, contacts, and perhaps endorsement or supportive quotes from organizations and somewhat well-known individuals. These, together, helping facilitate the kind of long-term collaborative forums whose focus is not theory type discussions but are forums dedicated to agreement on and movement on specific implementation plans, towards these long-term goals.

A lively Q/A format with more about the philosophy and vision behind Webcast:

What are EconomicDemocracy.org and Webcast "about"?

And the full media piece is here:

The Revolution Will Be Webcast

Having read this synopsis, you can read these two in either order.

We look forward to participation and contact ("info" at economicdemocracy dot org) from creative, visionary citizen activists!

[P.S. Yes, there are real health questions about cellphones. We need
to address those issues rather than ignoring the technology. Also,
when the technology allows them to be used as portable radios, with
their speakers, you won't need to be holding them against your
ear/head anyway.]