This post will raise the point that the so-called ‘technological revolution’ has had significantly less impact on democratic practice and political mobilization than the literature on the matter currently suggests.
First, however, it is important to define what the ‘technological revolution’ actually is.
Mr. Wheeler has stressed the importance of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) in such revolution and instructed on the shift, which has occurred from ‘mass’ to ‘multi-media’. Then, it was suggested that this progress in technology might provide for new democratic opportunities in terms of a more open government and new opportunities for public reaction and mobilization.
This post will not deny either that a remarkable technological progress took place or that it had (and is still having) a significant impact on our society in several ways. What, indeed, will be argued is the impact such revolution has had on society’s capability for political reaction and mobilization and the degree to which, therefore, it provided new democratic opportunities.
Political mobilization has been happening long before the ‘technological revolution’ and history is full of examples where those mobilizations greatly surpassed modern ones, either by the support they received or by the outcome they conquered.
The ‘expedition of the thousand’, for instance, took place in the 19th century and still, despite the lack of the technological resources of our times, was able to conquer the support of a big mass (as the name of the expedition suggests) and, in the context of the unification of Italy, its importance is simply undeniable bringing through the expedition of a thousand volunteers in the kingdom of the two Sicilies, Naples and Sicily into the kingdom of Sardinia representing the last territorial conquest before unification.
The American war of independence, the French revolution and the Minas Gerais conspiracy were all major examples of political mobilization by populations in the 18th century. Furthermore, despite the fact the three uprisings could not have happened more far away one from the other (they happened in the USA, France and Brazil), they were all inspired by the same values of the enlightenment era. Such sharing of values, however, pre-dates the ‘information era’ the ‘technological revolution’ was meant to have brought
When making the case for the democratic opportunities created by the technological revolution, scholars tend to use the Arab spring as an example.
First, it should be noted that the Arab spring was unsuccessful in several countries regressing into an ‘Arab winter’. However it was indeed successful in Tunisia, for instance. In Tunisia, people organized uprisings through the use of ICTs that arguably led to the country’s democratization and the drafting of a new constitution. Technology in this case is largely regarded as an instrument that helped providing a voice to the mass and political change as Tunisian protester Rim Nour explains and Colin Delany reports (Epolitics, available at http://www.epolitics.com/2011/02/10/how-social-media-accelerated-tunisias-revolution-an-inside-view/).
The question I now address to the reader is: With regards to ‘public reaction and mobilization’, in what way was the Tunisian uprising any different from the French revolution, American independence, or the expedition of the Thousands? With regards to the outcome of bringing a new regime in, in what way was it different?
Evidence seems to suggest, there is nothing new under the sun. Technology brought a different tool allowing for public mobilization, not a better one. It could be suggested that the technological revolution made mobilization easier? Doesn’t that, however, come at odds with the great number of mobilizations that pre-dated it? It could be suggested it made it faster and cheaper? Did that, however, made them any more effective as empirical evidence struggle to suggest?