Building a Networked Commons

Commentaries on the contributions that new technologies can and do make to social movements tend to embrace one of two extreme positions. At one end of the spectrum, Clay Shirky, among others, argues that the proliferation of electronic media will weaken the state and corporations without giving due consideration to the ways in which these technologies are themselves major sources of capitalist power or to how they are being used to develop more sophisticated methods of government surveillance.1 An extreme version of Shirky’s thinking was ubiquitous in the early coverage of the Arab Spring, wherein mainstream media reports often adopted the techno-utopian view that the mere existence of Facebook and Twitter will by itself topple dictatorships, which seems roughly analogous to assuming that the mere possession of a hammer will build a home. At the other extreme, Evgeny Morozov is overly dismissive of the capacity that new media has to help facilitate social justice in his influential book, The Net Delusion and in articles for London Review of Books and Le Monde Diplomatique.

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