Electronic Activism Revisited:
"The Revolution Will be Webcast"

Democratizing the Media Landscape
By Harel B.

Media is Information
Information is Power
Power to the People

With this "Power to the People" perspective on media activism, a series of online projects was launched in the early 1990s. In an article written in late 1992 I described how, two years prior, a nationwide human rights and media campaign was conceived, organized, and carried out largely through using the internet. The article was titled Electronic Activism, in analogy with "electronic mail", and referred to the techniques we created or adapted for these projects, and more generally to any type of activism which is fundamentally internet-based.

That article and its 1993 successor, Electronic Activism: II were intended to do more than spread the word about a series of successful electronic activist projects. They served also as reference manuals for activists, as how-to tutorials on everything from using email and online mailing lists (which were at the low to intermediate technological end even in 1990, though to a large degree unknown or unused in activist circles at the time) to sophisticated tools allowing for labor-saving automation by harnessing unix servers available on university systems, for example.

In addition, these articles were meant to serve as a call to action. The inherent message of Electronic Activism was essentially this: "Powerful tools are now available. We should learn to use them, thereby gaining significant benefits for activism and the common good; we should learn to use them, or else we will leave these powerful tools to be exploited and monopolized only by the mainstream, the Right, and Corporate America."

Those who are curious and wish to learn about these activist projects which began in 1990 (including the newsgroup misc.activism.progressive, still alive and kicking today) are invited to read the next section, on the Birth and Infancy of Electronic Activism. Those who are eager to get directly to concerns about the present and future may skip ahead to "A Thought Experiment" below.

It is my hope, however, that this update of the original Electronic Activism article, an update seven years in the making, suggests to the reader that there are compelling reasons today to re-examine exciting potential uses of technology for media activism, and that the time to Seize the Moment is very much upon us at this hour.

Historical Overview

Birth and Infancy of Electronic Activism (This section appears as a pop-up sidebar)

A Thought Experiment

Suppose I were to tell told you that something else happened in 1990 following the internet activist projects described above. Suppose I told you I had a fortuitous opportunity to meet with Bill Gates, and the even more unexpected chance to speak with him about funding progressive activist projects. And furthermore, that this was an opportunity which (owing to unique circumstances which need not be detailed here) stood a much better chance of success than what we'd otherwise expect when asking a hyper-rich capitalist to fund progressive causes.

Believe it or not, Gates was game. But with one catch. The "radical critique" of society had its compelling elements for him, Gates said. But if the critique was accurate, and if alternative institutions were really possible, then it should be easy to persuade the public, he added. He shouldn't have to do the convincing for us, nor should he have to fund an endless string of projects to promote progressive and radical democratic ideals. Rather, he continued, it should suffice -- if our perspectives were on the mark -- merely to give them a fair hearing. It should suffice for a single, well-funded project to create a "loudspeaker" for the movement. After that, let chips fall where they may, he suggested.

Following these general remarks, Gates proceeded to outline what he would, in fact, agree to fund that year: an array of TV stations whose broadcast reach encompassed the entire United States. I could not believe my ears. And yet Gates continued: he would add a similar national network of radio stations. He would pay for everything -- broadcast towers, equipment, infrastructure, and so forth -- for not one but many broadcast TV and radio stations. In other words, the movement would own and control something beyond the wildest dreams of any media activist of that time, with multi-million dollar media assets.

In fact, this fictitious Bill Gates scenario is no longer pure fiction.

In today's world, the realization of this very scenario -- the capability of grassroots activists to attain their wildest dreams, being able to affordably broadcast TV and radio to hundreds of millions -- has to a significant extent been fulfilled. Part of the capacity to realize this dream is already with us, and in the near future the full capability -- in fact, much more -- will be realized, due to emerging technologies.

Before justifying this assertion, notice that if we grant its validity for the moment we see also that it raises some fundamental questions for today's activists: will we be prepared for these remarkable new capabilities as they emerge in a rapidly changing technological landscape? And how should these new technologies best be made use of, for the cause of democracy and justice?

"Be careful of what you wish for;
you might get it. " --Folk saying

Ask yourself: if you were granted such a meeting with Bill Gates in 1990, and then given an entire national network of TV stations, what would you do next? This question is of more than mere intellectual interest; it is pressing. By 2005-2010 or so, the equivalent of the fictitious Bill Gates scenario above -- and much more beyond it in fact -- will be reality.

It is important to note that while five years may seem like a long time in our fast-paced technological world with its proclamations of "newer and faster" chips every six months, such a perspective is misleading. In terms of activist organizing nationwide, and indeed worldwide, five years (or even ten) is a very short time-frame, given the challenges which emerging technologies present to organizing people, projects, institutions, and coalitions.

This point bears repeating: time is short. If the left wishes to be prepared to exploit this unfolding new media terrain as soon as it is possible -- as we should, and as people of other political stripes, including those who hold the reigns of power, surely will -- then there is precious little time to waste, and the time frame available just barely suffices for starting nation-wide and global activist projects and large-scale coalitions to fulfill the enormous potential of the new technology.

If we rise to meet the challenges outlined here, then the struggle for a democratic media system is one which we will have successfully moved to a higher plane: activists and the mass of the Earth's people would move from an earlier phase of struggle, one based largely on attempting to gain access into the corporate-owned mass media, to a struggle based on our owning and controlling a very significant mass media presence, and asking ourselves: how do we make the best use of it? As we will see, although these questions are more pleasant to contemplate than strategies for merely breaking into corporate media space, the task of answering these questions is far from trivial.

Such a fundamental shift in activist struggle is not as rare as one might imagine (however, it is true that the transition to the higher plane from which media activism could take place, can be made within a very short historical time-frame if we act now to take advantage of and proactively plan for existing and emerging technology).

Indeed, a recurring theme in the history of struggle for a more just world has been that while such battles have their ups and downs, the trend over the long run is very often a positive one, with today's struggles taking place at a higher level then those of yesterday:

"People are now fighting to preserve workers' rights and Social Security, and medical support, and some sort of health program, and so on. People are now fighting to preserve these things. Well, they were not there not long ago"
notes Noam Chomsky in an interview with Rage Against the Machine. Elsewhere, Chomsky amplifies this point:
"In the advanced industrial countries, and often elsewhere too, popular struggles can start from a higher plane and with greater expectations than those of the Gay '90s and Roaring '20s, or even 30 years ago" [See http://www.usp.br/iea/textos.html]

This kind of shift to a new, higher plane of struggle can be reached in the case of activism to democratize media ownership and control, but only if we act now to organize collectively towards this endeavor, since much the same technology which has been and will continue to be used as an increasingly powerful weapon by elites, can help speed up and bring about fundamental power shifts affecting activist struggles.

One might further recall how taking advantage of technology has helped partially level previous playing fields in the 1980s and 1990s: the emergence of word processors and inexpensive photocopy services allowed campus and other activists to widely distribute professional newsletters and flyers. Likewise in the early 90s, as noted, Electronic Activism documented how email, newsgroups, automatic archivers and other internet features became available to activists. Indeed, some have even analyzed the effects of the Guttenburg press on the power of the Church as its own media monopoly diminished.

It is also worth repeating that technology is neutral in the sense that it will not, by itself, work for media democracy and justice; this, only we can accomplish, through collective action. As in the case of the internet itself, a shift in power relations in the critical arena of media will happen only to the extent we make it so by realizing positive potential paths. Similarly, it will fail to happen to the extent we just sit and watch, waiting for it to unfold before our eyes. We will return later to this urgent need to act. For now, let us move forward, and briefly survey today's landscape of media technology before moving on to glimpse the potential media world of the near future which is now possible.

Snapshot: U.S. media landscape at the turn of the millennium.

For the millions of Americans today with a personal computer, modem, and internet connection, online radio and limited video programming are already within reach. In fact, the modest list of internet sources for left/progressive programming is no longer so modest. .

To understand the present and future it is helpful to appreciate the past. In particular, it's worth remembering that today's world already realizes key aspects of what an activist's media fantasy might have been in 1990: a middle class American can listen to progressive programming -- even if it is not carried by any of the corporate media -- provided they are able to find it on the net, and are motivated to listen.

Still, the phenomenon known as the World Wide Wait remains a significant obstacle to using the internet for democratizing media control. If internet radio and TV mean slow connections, very long download times, and unreliable service, then we don't have a viable alternative to the pre-internet broadcasting infrastructures which are concentrated in corporate hands, and with whom we would effectively be competing.

In the case of modems, slow or irregular connection rates into Jane Citizen's home are due primarily to three limiting factors: her modem speed; whether her ISP has enough connections to simultaneously handle Jane and all the other subscribers; and slowdowns resulting from insufficient "horsepower" in the servers delivering a web site's contents to Jane and everyone else currently surfing that site. The good news is that these obstacles are on their way to being resolved.

Activists do good work, "but they don't get on the evening news.
Nobody knows what they're doing. Nobody can be motivated.
Nobody can join what they're doing because what we own,
the public airways, has been surrendered...and I say it's time to
have our own television stations, radio stations and cable channels."
--Ralph Nader, at NAACP's 91st convention, Baltimore, MD.

The Future is (Almost) Here: the media landscape in 2005-2010.

The future is here, and its name is broadband. Through cable modems, DSL, and other formats, the technologies which will help bring an end to the World Wide Wait have been steadily spreading. These technologies are collectively referred to as broadband.

While current users of broadband services will attest to the need for faster web servers as well, this does not currently pose a significant obstacle to live audio transmission, and our five year timeframe suffices to ensure, at the very least, a significant improvement in server speeds by 2008-2010; the main barrier to the realization of media democracy will not be technology. According to CNN/Money (1/28/00) at the end of 2000, 3.3 million Americans would have fast net access (more than doubling over the previous year's 1.4 million), with 41% of households having access to cable modems. It had been estimated that at least 18 million Americans will not merely have access to, but will actually use broadband by 2003; it turned out to have reached over 23.6 million by the middle of 2003 alone (see EconomicDemocracy.org/forums/ for on-going statistics).

Thus by 2007/2008, the potential audience for a 24-hour left/progressive TV and radio station will be very substantial (and is already substantial presently). The technological obstacles to being able to affordably broadcast from such a station, or indeed from network of such stations, are already low, and will by then be even lower. Technology itself will not be a bottleneck: the principal obstacles will involve the challenges of organizing projects which fully take advantage of what the technologies make possible. Yet five years is enough time to overcome such organizing challenges, if we are pro-active and begin our work now, rather than in 5 years.

But why stop there? Suppose broadband became a middle class staple, or indeed that almost all Americans had access to your 24-hour network of progressive stations via their computer. What else would you ask of a Genie, were one before you?

First of all, you wouldn't want your potential audience to have to tie up their phone during your entire broadcast. Broadband already eliminates this problem by freeing up the phone while high-speed internet access is provided in parallel.

However, you also wouldn't want your audience to have to sit in front of their PC during your entire broadcast. After all, if I'm doing housework, cleaning, or cooking in my kitchen, I can bring a portable TV, or radio, or walkman, to enjoy audio programming while moving about in my house. I'd like to have the same freedom while listening to your progressive internet station, too.

For example, currently anyone can listen to a little-known but very good left wing call-in and talk show, The Nobody Show, which broadcasts on WEOS in Geneva, New York. This is because WEOS is broadcast live over the internet through their web site. If you're happy to sit in front of your PC or are within hearing range of its speakers, the show you're listening to might as well be on regular radio, thanks to existing technology. It's not the same, however, if you're in the kitchen making dinner or are in the garage, let alone if you wish to listen while you drive.

Rapidly emerging technologies will change all of this.

Wireless in-home networks, internet capable walkmen, and wired automobiles will mean you will be able to listen to (and eventually watch) internet broadcasting stations while on the go. So will the millions of Americans we hope to reach with our hypothetical network of 24-hour progressive stations. Clip it on your belt, listen through your wristwatch, walkman, or cellphone, or tune while driving. With our 5-year time horizon we can also safely include your giving voice commands (minus today's clumsiness) as you seek out stations, programs, guests, and themes by talking to your device.

In this manner, internet radio will increasingly become as easy, natural, and convenient to use as traditional radio, and within a reasonable timeframe, perhaps nearly as affordable as well. In fact, wouldn't you pay somewhat more, and prefer to use, a device and mode of listening which allowed you access to news and music not merely from your region, but from across the entire country, continent, and world?

What about the digital divide?

Without question, it's important to avoid a moral blindness which excludes from our broad picture the fact that for the majority of the world's people, the internet is as distant as Mars, and that millions of poor people in the U.S. and elsewhere in the so-called first world stand second to last in the technological line, just ahead of persons living in the Third World.

Nevertheless, it would be equally blind to suggest that so long as millions are without even electricity, we as activists ought not make use of the most powerful technological tools we can. By the same logic, while millions are without electricity or are hungry, activists shouldn't use cars, phones, cellphones, video cameras, computers, etc.

In fact what can happen, and what often does happen, is that activists in the first world are merely the first to have the privileged ability to use technology when it is relatively new. Such technologies can then be used to promote justice here and in the Third World. In many cases this happens when these technologies, often with the assistance of first-world activists, reach the hands of people struggling for justice the the Third World, or in the "Third World at Home".

Recall how video cameras eventually made it into the hands of indigenous tribespeople in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, who used footage of the massive destruction by multinational corporations as part of their resistance. Or the use of the internet by the Zapatistas. Or Rodney King's beating captured on video. Would it have made sense for activists in the U.S. to renounce the use of a younger internet, or of video cameras, until those in the Third World had full access as well? Of course not. To have done so would have meant giving monopolistic control over powerful technologies to the forces resisting justice. We do not aid our causes by avoiding new technologies, or not proactively planning for emerging ones.

"It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and the worst
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst
...Democracy is coming to the U.S.A."

--Democracy Leonard Cohen, 1992.

Furthermore, by developing and building up various networks, including exchanges for programming and by creating financially robust umbrellas of autonomous but interconnected institutions, such infrastructure can be expanded to include and be interconnected with counterparts in the Third World.

Much the same comments apply to micro-broadcasting. For media activists, there is no substantive, strategic dichotomy between traditional and internet-based TV and radio: we should pursue both. Efforts in support of micro-broadcasting and community TV, cable, and radio are worthy of support, and will remain important for many years to come, certainly during 2005-2010 and beyond. While they fit certain niches and exploit certain openings in our society, the immense broadcasting reach and other technological advantages of internet-based broadcasting can and should be exploited to fully realize their own niche and potential, which includes a network of 24-hour stations reaching tens to perhaps hundreds of millions of people. Such a huge broadcasting arena should not be abandoned to be the sole domain of multinational corporations.

Internet-based broadcasting would not function as a substitute for regular TV, radio, and micro-broadcasting. Rather, it would be a complementary, parallel endeavor. Furthermore, it could help reinvigorate its complementary projects by promoting progressive content for traditional TV and radio in bootstrap fashion, as sizable audiences, better finances, and the creation of more content follow a "virtuous circle" within the scope of internet based broadcasting, and cooperatively between these new broadcasters and more traditional broadcast media.

Acting to create the new media landscape

If we are bold enough to take full advantage of emerging technologies which are applicable to altering the media landscape, particularly its power and ownership structures, we will have succeeded in replacing the old set of challenges and obstacles with a new one ("be careful of what you ask for: you might get it"). Yet it will be an unmistakably enviable set of problems to have, just as problems with one's national health care system are preferable to having to struggle to have health care recognized as a human right rather than a market commodity.

Suppose for example that there was another critical event like Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq, but in the year 2010 -- possibly years earlier. If we start acting today, we could at such a future time find ourselves able to shift from an old set of media related questions and goals (e.g., how do we get on CNN for a few minutes?) to a new set of questions and goals. For example: how do we create the programming for our own 24-hour globally broadcast left/progressive TV stations? Equally pressing a question would be: how to we get people to know about our stations? and perhaps most critically, how do we get people to want to watch? and to be empowered to take action after watching? Remember: your progressive station will be in competition with many thousands (and soon tens of thousands) of stations from across the country and across the world, all available at the touch of a button. How will people know your station exists? Why will they be compelled to tune in, and keep tuning in? These are among the questions which progressives will need to think about and respond to -- a process we would be wise to begin today.

On a positive note, if we act to realize such a change in the media landscape, it would represent a fundamental leap forward for media activism, and indeed a positive shift in a critical set of society's power relations. History teaches us that it is precisely such changes in power relations that allow social struggles for justice to move forward: not elites giving "handouts", but the results of people acting in ways which alter power structures, thereby compelling elites to give another inch (or yard) because the public has won enough power and leverage to demand and secure such concessions.

Necessary Elements

Obviously, if we are to use the emerging technologies to create a new media landscape with radically different power relations in ownership and control, large-scale national and international mobilizations will be needed.

What goals would we need to meet to accomplish this? Put differently, if a Genie granted us all of the above technologies today, what else would we need? As noted, a minimalist program must surely include:

  1. National and global networks which create, share, distribute and do public outreach for ("advertise") such progressive programming, on a far larger scale than today;

  2. Cooperative projects incorporating news, investigative reporting, and analysis, together with humor, art, music, culture, and other features which induce people to want to watch by addressing the fullness of their humanity and their everyday needs. This would include incorporating institutional analysis and radical vision, on the one hand, with practical tips and advice (including forums for viewer-viewer or listener-listener sharing) on surviving within existing frameworks and arenas -- such as the realities of working in Corporate America, living under HMO style health care, working 50 or more hours per week, health and wellness concerns physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual, and so forth. Unless we address all of the above and more, how will we become relevant enough for tens of millions to want to listen and watch?

  3. Funding mechanisms which are sustainable, invigorating, democratizing in structure, and which feed into promoting the above two goals.

Equally important, to avoid rotting from within, is that we create and foster institutions which are wholesome, and compatible with our deepest values. Certainly this means our institutions should be structured to work against and to aim to be free of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of bias and prejudice. But to promote a credible alternative to the capitalist economic, quasi-religious mindset which puts money and possessions over our common humanity, and which puts hierarchy and competition into all human relations, our institutions will also need to be cooperative and fundamentally non-hierarchical -- avoiding boss/employee financial and power structures in favor of organizations modeled roughly on cooperatives, collectives, kibbutzim, and so forth.

Doing so while still breathing the air around us of a culture and educational/media system to which such democratic notions are alien will be very difficult, and points towards the need to create meta-institutions which help sustain our incipient institutions.

Such meta-institutions would serve as consultants which assist and advise the new media organizations, coalitions, and other institutions as they share expertise not only in creating content, financing, and audience building, but also in fostering empowering, cooperative, and non-hierarchical workplaces, national coalitions, and networks of media organizations.

A critical question, then, is who will help create such meta-institutions?

For the goals above, clearly (II) and (III) are intimately related: larger committed audiences are conducive to better funding, while dwindling audiences which lack a strong sense of connection to the programming, are very hazardous to financial health.

Some of the technological tools that present themselves are those heavily exploited by translational corporations. Fast and easy "just click here" (or soon, "just say Yes out loud") live, interactive fund-raising is one example. Instead of the pretended style of intimacy and familiarity of the Corporate variety, our aim (and advantage) would be in creating honest community and familiarity with our audiences. Within such a context, "just click here to donate $1" or even automated versions which users can turn on to allow monthly deductions, can make it easier for listeners and viewers to give their financial support and have control over how much and when to donate, thereby making it easier to give to those outlets people wish to support.

Additional Possibilities

One idea is a progressive or nonprofit alternative to DoubleClick.com; suppose it were called the People's Exchange for AnnounCEments (PEACE). Your web site, which serves also as a radio or TV broadcaster, could choose to participate in PEACE broadly, including many non-profits (PEACE would be a subnetwork of a NONPROF network, say), or more narrowly, including only progressive organizations. You may decide that you don't want any commercial advertisements on your site, but are willing to have ads for nonprofits -- e.g. the Red Cross, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, perhaps Amnesty or Oxfam, and so forth.

Or, only ads for progressive nonprofits such as Greenpeace, Public Citizen, and The Feminist Majority, or whatever categories are acceptable. The choice would be yours. It's worth remembering that mainstream nonprofits already spend significant sums of money on public outreach through advertising; some of it could go through PEACE, and could be shared with PEACE affiliates.

Since such a network could be designed by and for progressives, the traditional paradigm could be transcended, allowing you, the web host, to have more control. For example, filling out a web form specifying the areas ("environment", "economic democracy", "justice", etc) for which you wish to accept progressive text or image links, or even specifying a particular list of organizations. And there is no reason why democratic voting among affiliates of the network could not encompass far wider aspects of decision-making.

PEACE could also provide the infrastructure for cross-promotion specifically among the growing networks of progressive internet-based broadcast stations. In essence a progressive version of LinksExchange could arrise, but applying to audio and video as well as text and images. Such a network could serve multiple purposes: to partially fund progressive web-based radio and TV broadcasters, and to fund worthy causes, including critical meta-institutions which nurture the growing institutions comprising the incipient democratic media network.

It would be dangerous to suppose that even ads from nonprofits or from progressive organizations do not have a potentially significant affect on content. However, the corrupting effect is less than that of traditional advertising. It could even be made "blind" so Greenpeace does not know your content and thus whether it wishes to continue advertising with you on the basis of what you said about its last action; only the central, democratically controlled nonprofit network for ad and revenue distribution would know. Furthermore, this arrangement is offered here as but one possible source of funding, which uses the online medium and technology; other possibilities exist, and should be explored.

More generally, cross-marketing (or to use a less offensive term, cross-promotion) will be critical. Corporate America wouldn't use this tool if it were not so effective for large scale mass outreach. If set up properly, the use of cross-promotion among progressive media and activist groups with overlapping political platforms and visions could also foster general cooperation and mutual respect among the members of the autonomous but interconnected network of progressive broadcasters and grassroots institutions. It could also help alleviate the need for large-scale content creation (I). For example, if each of three stations broadcasts 12 hours per day of new programming, each station could choose among its favorites of the others' content to cover the entire 24 hours with its own unique blend.

Including Culture

It is also worth listening and paying close attention to right-wing religious radio, and to understand what about it draws so many people. Some things we cannot and should not emulate: we offer no comfortingly simplistic solutions, or straight planned out paths to salvation, world harmony, and peace.

However, we do need to connect with people's lives and their needs. People need a sense of community. They need advice on staying financially afloat within this economic system, until we have moved beyond it. People have emotional, psychological, aesthetic, and moral/spiritual needs. They need advice and support around issues of health care, child care, the school system, drugs, TV, sexuality, and so forth. Such programming would supplement analysis and activism with a third, critical dimension: support systems for surviving and succeeding within today's world. Yes, even for "succeeding" within a pathological world -- while promoting an understanding of the need for fundamental change, and for participating to make that change happen. Such programming would not replace news and analysis to help us build a better world for tomorrow, but would serve as a complementary component.

If nothing else, listening to right-wing religious radio should prove a strong motivation. Since they will take full advantage of the emerging media landscape (look at how well they are already doing within the present, more primitive one) we too should take full advantage of its potential for promoting positive rather than regressive solutions to humanity's and the Earth's extremely pressing problems.

The present article focuses on the central issues of media democracy and attaining more democratic control over what information and analysis is available to us, and created by us. However, similar issues arise with respect to culture generally, and in particular for music. Have you ever felt talked down to by your rock, classical, or other music station? Disliked bland, "just maximize mass appeal" music offerings? Democratic internet radio could choose a path different from the market-based paradigm of catering to the lowest common denominator in the drive to maximize short-term profits.

Freed from these paradigms, and using technology which allows for more convenient fund-raising mechanisms than is available to traditional U.S. public radio (and without the axe of Congress overhead), much more innovative, intelligent, and creative music programming could be created -- particularly when the same technology allows for a much more participatory (democratic?) process for the selection of favorites. These improvements could exist on top of relatively more democratized distribution and control mechanisms a la Napster and Gnuttela, and wider projects to decentralize the internet such as Freenet. (For Gnutella, see also here and here).

[Update: Alluvium arrives in 2003]

Correspondingly, alternative organizations and institutions for the creation and sharing of music should in theory be able to attract listeners away from traditional stations, forcing the latter to change. Indeed, why should grassroots independent music broadcasters be content with an audience increase just from a tiny sliver to a few percent? Why not aim for 5%, 10%, 25%, or more?

Indeed, why not have similar aims not just for music, but for other programming?

Closing Thoughts

There are various fruitful and useful perspectives on the internet and related technologies, and analyses concerned with warning us about potential dangers and pitfalls are certainly among them. It would be a truly dangerous mistake, however, to neglect the positive side; it is critical that we proactively seek opportunities for democratizing change. We should keep an eye open, constantly, for ways to take fullest advantage of emerging technologies as methods for expanding democracy and for bringing about a more equal distribution of power -- in the media specifically, and in the economic system generally.

Admittedly, technophiles and technological razzle dazzle abound. However we should not throw the baby out with the bath-water. It is important to be vigilantly open to possibilities for subverting and transcending mainstream views about and uses of technology, and to energetically seek alternative modalities which support rather than run counter to our common humanity.

Taking this philosophy to heart, the present article is intended as a Carpe Diem, directing attention towards exciting possibilities which now exist for subverting the dominant techno-capitalist paradigm, using the very technologies which have been, are, and will continue to be used in promotion of that oppressive and suicidal paradigm, regardless of whether or not we, too, are wise enough to fully adopt these powerful tools.

Furthermore, the stakes are high. Technology is not an automatically helpful, benevolent force. Nor is it inherently a tool of the powerful, or of the oppressor; it is merely a tool. And like any tool, it can be used either for good or for ill.

"The release of atomic energy has not created a new
problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity
of solving an existing one."
  --Albert Einstein, from "Atomic War or Peace"
Atlantic Monthly, November 1945 (cited in The Quotable Einstein, p.125)

The term "merely" is misleading, of course. Technology is not merely tool, but one which has grown ever more powerful in recent years, a trend which will continue and in fact accelerate. This technological Genie, this tool, has been likened to a hammer. A hammer can be used to build a nice, solid house, one which will shelter the homeless; or alternatively, it can be used to break bones. As this hammer continues to grow increasingly more powerful, its potential on both sides of the spectrum increases, with greater possibilities for house-building and bone-breaking alike. Correspondingly, our responsibility increases to ensure that the hammer of technology is used for positive rather than destructive ends.

In addition, since technology is a moving target, planning of activist projects must take this dynamic into consideration. In order for a corporation's 5 year plan to "crush the competition" to be successful, it needs to take account -- in today's planning -- of the different technological landscape in which its 5th year strategy is intended to culminate. The same reasoning applies to us.

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 2005-2010 in order to win the fullest victories possible in the struggle for media democracy and empowerment.

On the relative pace of technological versus social progress, three perspectives are worth noting. The first observes that humanity's social and moral development tends to move much more slowly than the rate at which increasingly sophisticated technology unfolds.

The second perspective, alluded to above, notes the correspondingly widening gap between our level of social development, on the one hand, and the sophistication of our technology on the other. It notes the consequences of this widening gap in terms of increased risk and responsibility: an uncivilized, barbaric cave-man can do more damage with a steel club than with a large stick, after all. This was Einstein's observation.

A third perspective, however, is more positive. As noted in this essay, conscious, caring, careful application of technology can be used to promote positive, healing, progressive, and radically liberating change in society. Approached in this manner, could wise use of the growing technological tool-kit serve as a means towards alleviating the gap and the slow rate of social progress by acting in ways which allow positive change to take place more quickly and easily? Actions rather than words can best address such questions; they can only be answered if we are bold enough to attempt realizing today the hopes they embody for tomorrow.

Join us!

What next? EconomicDemocracy.org has been set up as a community for people interested in getting involved, and in making media democracy happen -- both the visions and projects outlined here, and broader enterprises.

In addition to articles, analysis and other resources, the forums at EconomicDemocracy.org allow you to join and link with like minded folks to expand, modify, and improve the activist projects outlined in this and other strategic articles found on EconomicDemocracy.org. There is also an email list for networking. It is through the forums, however, that on-going discussions and planning can take place, and where you can participate in a process of turning today's activist visions into tomorrow's reality.

If this sounds like the kind of positive, creative, and proactive activist community you would like to be involved with, jump right to EconomicDemocracy.org. You will probably also want to use the "tell a friend" feature to help spread the word and add new ideas and energy to these endeavors. We look forward to seeing you at EconomicDemocracy.org!

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has a genius, power, and magic in it "

  • GM's Internet cars: The end of FM radio? Feb 26, 2013 a major step closer to one part (out of many, but an important part) of the vision below written ~ 1999-2001. Had activists pushed harder (myself included in this somewhat uncomfortable question), had we worked harder for even a prototype, for even limited in scope, could this have arrived sooner, a few yeas ago? Even more so, we could ask this question about "internet over your cellphone" again, was in the piece below, but the NPR Media Player and such, came only much later. -HB Feb 2013.

    © 1999-2001 (with updates in 2003 and following) by Harel B.

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