Mediated Revolutions Introduction

01. July 2010

The Information Age, Dialectic Societies and the Arab Spring

In 1848 a wave of revolutions rushed over Europe. Thousands of revolutionaries died during 18 months of revolutions in over 15 countries. The Industrial Revolution had brought about a new working class and civil society. Industrialization and reforms were having an effect on society; in Prussia, 80% of the people were literate — and they were calling for change . The nationalist revolutionaries demanded constitutional governments and broader rights for the worker and middle class but the root of the revolutions lay in the dialectic society created by the Industrial Revolution.

Without the changes in labor due to the technologies of the Industrial Revolution there would have been no socioeconomic drive behind the 1848 Spring of Nations. The controversial media theorist, Marshall McLuhan refers to the railway as a medium that broadcast the new societal message. “The railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheel or road into human society but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous human functions, creating totally new kinds of cities and new kinds of work and leisure.” The significance of the Industrial Revolution’s technology is not of manufacturing or advancements in production processes, but rather how society was transformed by the changing technologies. The Industrial Revolution destroyed the individualized cottage industry and brought about an era of mass identity. A worker was no longer a craftsman but one of thousands of factory workers. This transition was reflected in our treatment of technology. Wolfgang Schivelbusch describes the reaction to changing machinery as resentful and remorseful:

They clearly felt a loss of personal freedom. The railway put an end to the freedom of guiding an individual conveyance at will. Similarly, gaslight made it impossible for people to become absorbed in contemplating the ‘individual’ flame of an oil-lamp or candle. Railway travelers, no longer living in the landscape through which they were being transported, felt like parcels in a pneumatic tube. People gazing at a gaslight no longer lost themselves in dreams of the primeval fire.

The loss of individualism was present in the workplace and in the home. In drawing rooms across Europe there was a resistance to gas lighting — which directly connected each home to the city’s centralized gas supply. Schivelbusch surmises, “It seems to have been a reaction to the industrialization of lighting. By keeping their independent lights, people symbolically distanced themselves from a centralized supply.” This resistance to centralization, the onset of the Industrialized economy and the pre-revolutionary discussions across Europe of control, balance of power and representation, met in dialectic opposition. The causality of the Industrial Revolution and the Spring Nations is akin to that of the Information Age and the Arab Spring. As we will explore later, technology-fueled dialectic societies are a perfect platform for revolution.

In order to understand the dialectic societies occurring today we must first look at the origins of the Information Age. The Internet, founded on libertarian principles that promoted a sharing of information and communication, democratized the production process. A networked information economy was developed around the nonmarket commodity of information and communication. Once passive consumers, the active producer was swiftly transforming into a commodity: information. Yet the concept that the Web remains a free and open environment perfectly suited for communication was still present. The majority of the first world now considers the connectivity of the web a fundamental human right. The denial of access to the wealth of information, and the ability to contribute to the network, is contradictory to the ideals of the Internet.

In the Arab world, however, the right to the openness of the Internet, along with the freedom of press and the right to protest, were stifled. The networked information economy is dependent on the principles of communication and expression yet as we will discuss in places like Egypt and Tunisia, the people were not allowed their voice. The citizens of Tunisia were simultaneously citizens of Facebook — which with a population of 900 million active users constitutes the 3rd largest society in the world — where the guiding principles and laws of each nation conflicted. The removal of the Tunisian and Egyptian people from the networked information economy, and the liberal principles it is structured upon, created a dialectic society that, in January 2011, provided the perfect impetus for the Arab Spring revolutions.

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