New Orleans There are some things about the rise of smartphones and their ubiquitous cameras fueling social networking that seems distorting. To see a crowd shot of a demonstration by workers at the Los Angeles City Council or a stem winder of a political speech at a rally and have your eyes see scores of hands held up with smartphones strikes me initially as off putting. Somehow the passion has leaked out of the picture I’m seeing, even as the passionate are taking pictures. Is this a real experience or a photo op? What is the visceral imprint of life filtered through a camera? Is something happening important to people in these moments or are these musings knocking on the door of latent fuddy-duddy rants to come?
Sure, there’s a part of it all that’s just plain moronic and dangerous. AT&T did a study that found that not only is texting unfortunately ubiquitous while driving, but that 27% of drives between 16 and 65 admit to using Facebook behind the wheel. 14% said they use Twitter while driving too and 30% said they do this “all the time.” 10% of those surveyed said they video chat while driving, and let’s be
honest, that’s scary! 17% take selfies while driving, and let’s be honest, that’s just sad.
Either naturally or through discipline and training as an organizer, listening and looking are my learning tools, but what I find intriguing in all of this, no matter how disturbing, is the degree this urgent, almost irrational, need to share speaks to a desperate search for community. Talking recently about “desktop museums” was interesting because of the numerous reactions to the notion. Many commented that back wherever they once called home, there were similar websites and Facebook pages that were widely attended and “friended.” In the rootlessness of modern life, people are obviously still digging deeply wherever for
their roots wherever they can find loose dirt, but are also seeking shared experiences that can define their community and in so doing give definition to their own lives.
Sara Dean, a former colleague at ACORN, reached out about her experience
now as an architect and designer now working on the West Coast, who was
excited about an ACORN “desktop museum.” She commented that now she works on “… digital interface, both looking at crowd-sourced structures for storytelling and empowerment. Actually community organizing structures translate to this: how particularly are you asking the public to engage, what their incentives are, socially or community-wise, to do so, how to make it clear they own the tool and the outcome…etc. And really, how do the structures ACTUALLY be community-owned. Often crowd sourcing is another method of sourcing information from a community, not giving it to the community.”
All of her points are important, but her warning is also significant, because this desperate search for community, sharing, and crowd sourcing by individuals is also being monetized and manipulated by the Facebooks, Googles, and the like, not just NSA. As organizers how do we embrace modern tools to build real community that satisfies and competes with contemporary claims but still creates both voice and action in the public arena, raised smartphones or not? There’s no going back at this point, but making the way forward really work is a challenge. Somehow we still have to maintain the highest value for the actual experience,
rather than the virtual and shared facsimile. There is still no substitute for bottoms in the chairs, feet on the street, voices raised, and bodies on the line, whether anyone took a picture of it and shared it on Facebook or not. We can’t make change just by liking it, but our community has to be attractive, compelling, and inclusive on terms that translate as now, not as nostalgia for then.
Freeland – We Want Your Soul (Official Video)