“Breaking the norm of noninvolvement” is what urban sociologists would have called this before the age of social media. It is more common than one would think and quite necessary. Urbanites have designated places like bars and public parks where they have always gone to meet strangers, neutral territory, as it were. Activities like walking the dog also have helped. There is nothing new about this.
What is new is that the activity should be digitally mediated. What is is the meaning of needing a prop this sophisticated, as opposed to say a dog or a mug of beer? Or is it more benign to do this? We do everything else on our mobile devices, so was it a matter of time they would be used for this purpose as well?
With SXSW well under way in Austin, Texas, the servers behind apps likeBeluga, GroupMe, Kik and FastSociety must be working overtime. After all, people like talking to their friends, right?
In this same batch of apps, we’ve seen another phenomenon, though - apps that make it quicker an easier to talk to people you don’t know - and we have one big question: Do people really want to talk to strangers?
I’m hard-pressed to see how this analysis applies to social movements in general, and Egypt in particular. On DemocracyNow! on Wednesday, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who reported from Egypt during the uprising, indicates that people flooded Tahrir Square precisely because when the internet was shut off, they couldn’t simply stay at home and check the progress of the rally by Facebook or SMS. This does indicate a separation between digital and material realities.
Moreover, novelist Ahdaf Soueif indicates that the movement has been building for ten years. What we now think of as mediated or augmented reality, for example the locative features of social media, did not exist at the beginning of that time period. Much of the mobilization which appears so novel to the casual Western observer, had as its impetus the unrest of independent Egyptian trade unions dating back to at least 2003. At that time, according to Eric Boehlert, the US blogosphere was still nascent.
Finally, if our system of social stratification is imposed upon the digital, then there are haves and have nots. Are Egyptian street vendors cyborgs? Yet they have been a part of the uprising. I’m not convinced that cyberspace and meatspace are so easily elided, for I think such a view diminishes the latter.
by Space Invaders
Last week, fellow editor Nathan Jurgenson made a post entitled “Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality” with a call for more concept work surrounding this topic. I…