Four Factors Needed To Make Technology A 'Liberation' Technology

from the understanding-activism dept

There's been something of a silly debate going on for a while now, about whether or not various technologies and social media tools "help" or "hurt" democratic or populist uprisings. Of course, technology is just a tool, and it can be used for good reasons, bad reasons and perfectly neutral reasons. Technology itself is not the impetus behind any of this stuff... but as a tool, it can be used to accelerate, enhance or emphasize certain aspects of what's going on. So while the general debate is silly, it is important to understand the factors that make technology useful in these scenarios. Mathew Ingram points us to an interesting attempt by Mary Joyce to break down what factors really need to be present to make a technology useful for "liberation" as opposed to "repression." You can read all of the details at the link above, but the headline version is:
  1. It must transmit political information
  2. It must be accessible to a large segment of the population
  3. It must allow for effective utilization
  4. It must allow for protection of privacy
The article also argues that "repression technologies" requires the reverse. I'm not sure I completely believe that. For example, something that is available to a large segment of the population can certainly be used for repression as well. Still, it is an interesting framework for thinking about how these technology tools are used (or not) in various political conflicts.

Filed Under: liberation, repression, technology


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  1. identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 8 Feb 2011 @ 5:16am

    Wall Newspapers and Television.

    I would like to talk about an odd kind of newspaper, which flourished for a time, before being replaced by an electronic medium as a means of repression. This was the Chinese "wall newspaper," up to about the time of the death of Chairman Mao and the downfall of the "Gang of Four," and to the Tiananmen Square Massacre. People would post pieces of paper on walls, with a greater or lesser likelihood of being arrested, as the case might be, and other people would stand around and read the pieces of paper, and talk about them, again, with a greater or lesser likelihood of being arrested. The range of materials ran from a printed copy of an official newspaper to so-called "big character" manifestos (hand-written with a traditional ink brush, and posted by individuals, and, by definition, extremely subversive). Wall newspapers were traditionally free to read.

    (see Roger Garside, _Coming Alive: China After Mao_, 1981. Garside, a British diplomat, went and talked to the rebellious students at the time of the downfall of the "Gang of Four," and gives a good idea of the political culture of the wall newspaper)

    In the twenty years or so, after the downfall of the "Gang of Four," and before the rise of the Internet, the Chinese authorities produced hundreds of millions of television sets, to the point that the average family has one, and the circulation of newspapers fell by a factor of three. Television, an inherently undemocratic medium, tended to "atomize" the public and keep it out of the public agora-space in which the wall-newspaper had flourished. Effectively, by carrying its message to the viewer's home, offering a discount in the form of convenience, state-controlled television sought to outbid the "big character" press. Television, when everyone has his own receiver, places the individual alone, in a posture of acquiescent silence, before a gigantic authority-figure. The Internet, of course, re-opened the game, allowing a continuation of the "big character" publications, only on an electronic wall instead of a physical wall.

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