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<nettime> Fwd: The Rise of Open Source, Network-Based Movements
Agent Humble on Tue, 25 Feb 2003 11:38:21 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Fwd: The Rise of Open Source, Network-Based Movements

by Graham Caswell - Various 
caswell {AT} indigo.ie

The vast, coordinated protests that occurred worldwide last Saturday
were just the latest manifestation of the power of the loose,
non-hierarchial, evolutionary movements that have been enabled by the
development of the Internet. And this fundamental social change is just

Last Saturday between twelve and twenty million people around the world
took to the streets to protest the rush to war with Iraq. While the
millions marching in major cities received most media attention, there
were also protests in thousands of smaller cities, towns and villages
world-wide. Letterkenny saw 15 marching, 600 demonstrated on the
Shetland Islands and even McMurdo Station in Antarctica saw 50 people
voicing their opposition to war. While the numbers of people involved in
the global demonstrations will never be fully known, what is clear is
that these were the largest co-ordinated protests in human history.

Yet the question of how these demonstrations came about has been
conspicuously absent from discussion of this momentous event. What group
is capable of organising such a co-ordinated human effort on such a vast
scale? How can so many people from so many backgrounds in so many places
work together in such a focused way towards a common goal? And why were
politicians, media analysts and even the local organisers themselves so
surprised at the vast scale of the protests? What's going on here?

The nature of the group that called last Saturday's global
demonstrations gives an indication of the forces at work. The European
Social Forum (ESF), a meeting of over 60,000 trade unionists, peace
campaigners, socialists, environmentalists and other activists held in
Florence, Italy last November, is one of the new, network-based
movements that are revolutionising civil society but which barely appear
on the radar of conventional media and political discussion. These
movements are non-hierarchical, processed-orientated and evolutionary
and share a common distrust of large-scale corporations and
establishment economic ideology and thinking. They also share a common
reliance on the revolutionary communicative dynamics of the Internet for
their existence and explosive growth.

Consider the following:

-The World Social Forum (WSF), of which the European Social Forum (ESF)
is an offshoot, was first held in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001 to shadow
the World Economic Forum of world business and political leaders held
annually in Davos, Switzerland. It represents a vast variety of
non-governmental organisations and groups and presents an alternative to
the neo-liberal economic thinking that so many blame for environmental
destruction and social inequality. In only two years regional, national
and local social forums have blossomed around the world (plans for an
Irish Social Forum are underway). Social forums provide an 'open space'
for communication, sharing, networking and co-ordinating among diverse
groups and individuals working towards environmental sustainability and
social justice.

-Indymedia, the non-commercial volunteer media movement that relies
mostly on the Internet for publication, now has 108 national and local
Independent Media Centres around the world and is growing rapidly. By
several measures Indymedia is already the world's largest news
organisation. Yet, as a non-commercial, non-hierarchical, evolutionary
'movement' that rejects advertising and allows anybody to publish, it is
too different from Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation or the BBC to be
understood in the same way. And so while many mainstream journalists use
it and even participate in it, Indymedia rarely makes the news itself.

-Linux and the Open Source software movement is making growing inroads
into the corporate software industry. Highly skilled but mostly unpaid
programmers develop and enhance a vast and growing collection of
software motivated not by money but by idealism and a distrust of the
corporate profit motive. They co-ordinate and disseminate their work via
the Internet.

-The 'anti-globalisation movement', the diverse collection of protestors
that have gathered at almost every significant international economic or
political meeting since the pivotal Seattle World Trade Organisation
protests of November 1999, continues despite the chill following the
September 11th attacks. These events highlight issues often ignored by
world leaders and are almost completely organised and co-ordinated via
the Internet.

These are the largest and most visible of the network-based movements
but are not the only ones. From virally-circulated emails to online
petitions and the campaign to make 'A Nation Once Again' the world's
favourite song, the huge and growing variety of Internet-mediated
campaigns only rarely, if ever, break into the awareness of mainstream

An important common denominator is that network-based movements largely
operate outside of the monetary economy, and so are invisible to many
conventional measurements of size and impact. For example, Indymedia
does not accept advertising and does not depend on sales and so it is
not seen as competing with conventional media. Music freely distributed
online does not show up in the sales-based charts, and so is largely
ignored by the music press. The incessant growth of open source software
is not reflected in any stock market valuation and its qualities are not
promoted in any advertisement. Because money is not a major part of
these movements they tend to be underestimated. Yet they have very real

In millions upon millions of daily creative acts and informational
transactions, the online community by-pass conventional media and
economics to create what is almost a parallel world. It's not an exact
representation of the real world, but then neither is the conventional
media and economy. It's only when the effects of promotion and
discussion and campaigning in this parallel world result in something
unprecedented, as it did last Saturday, that the established,
comfortable, commercially-dependent media and political establishment
take notice. And even then only briefly.

The Internet can be called a 'meta-medium'. It IS text, but it is more
than text. It IS radio, but it is more than radio. It IS television, but
more than television. It in fact encompasses all electronic media and
more. While bandwidth restrictions constrain the possibilities of the
Internet, it is already possible to see an end point in which all
electronic content forms are immediately publishable by anyone and
accessible to everyone, always and everywhere. One hundred years from
now it may be difficult to think of the telephone, the fax machine, the
radio and the television as separate technologies. Instead these
isolated and immature media may be seen as mere forerunners of the
development of the Internet and the centralised, controlling
informational bottlenecks that accompanied them will be anachronisms.

Thanks to only a few decades of mass media, human perspective has become
homogenised to a greater extent than ever before, a homogenisation that
is reflected in sport, in culture, in politics and in the economy. But
by undermining and subverting this 'official view' of how things are,
the Internet and the movements that grow from it are fundamentally
changing the way in which we see the world, and thus are changing the
world itself. The medium is indeed the message and just because the
stock market drastically and myopically misunderstood the meaning of the
Internet does not mean that it is anything less than revolutionary.

Another world is not only possible -its happening.

[ http://ender.indymedia.org/twiki/bin/view/Main/AgentHumble ]
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