Characteristics of the digitalized youth leaders of recent uprisings

Excerpted from an editorial by Paul Mason in the Guardian :

“At the heart of the movement is a new sociological type – the graduate with no future. They have access to social media that allow them to express themselves in defiance of corporately owned media and censorship. With Facebook, Twitter, and Yfrog truth travels faster than lies, and propaganda becomes flammable.

More important, they seem immune to hermetic ideologies: Bolshevism, Labourism, Islamism, the myths and legends around constitutional Irish nationalism. Sitting in meetings with the discontented from Athens to Dublinduring this crisis, I’ve noticed how the organised politicos flounder; how they cannot impose their action plans and strategies.

Women are numerous as the backbone of these movements. After 20 years of modernised labour markets and higher education access, the “archetypal” protest leader, organiser, facilitator, spokesperson now is an educated young woman.

But the sociology of the movements is only part of the story. Probably the key factor is “horizontalism” which has become the default method of organising. Technology makes non-hierarchical organising easy: it kills vertical hierarchies spontaneously, whereas the quintessential experience of the 20th century was that movements became hierarchised, killing dissent within, channelling the energies in destructive directions.

In addition, the speed of doing things compensates for their relative lack of organization: in this the protesters have stumbled upon the principle of asymmetry – a swarm of disorganized people can effect change against a slow-moving hierarchical body.

And then there are “memes”. When Richard Dawkins proposed the concept in 1976 – of a cultural genetics in which ideas are spawned, replicate and mutate – he was describing something pervasive in culture. But mass access to information technology, to continue the analogy, may have produced an evolutionary take-off in the speed of replication.

What it means for this generation is that ideas arise, are very quickly market-tested and then either take off, bubble under, insinuate themselves into the mainstream culture or, if they are no good, disappear. And memes are both overt and subtextual: they can be the snatch of a few lyrics from a song; a piece of street art – and they can be as powerful in guiding the actions of people as the old, cadenced and soundbitten public speeches of yesteryear.

On top of that there is the network. It’s become axiomatic that the network is more powerful than the hierarchy. But the ad hoc network has become easier to form. So if you “follow” somebody from the UCL occupation on Twitter, as I have done, you can easily run into a radical blogger from Egypt, or a lecturer in peaceful resistance in California with contacts in Burma. During the early 20th century people would ride hanging on the undersides of train carriages across borders just to make links like these.”

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