We are seeing the first steps toward new means of organizing people socially and culturally as well as politically. Wireless, peer-to-peer, ad-hoc, mesh networks of telephones, computers, and people add up to capabilities – for good and for ill – on the scale of those unleashed by the printing press or the alphabet. I can guarantee that not all future political demonstrations organized via the Internet and mobile phone will be peaceful or democratic. The most pragmatic cause for hope is that the new techno-social regime – the media, the way people use them, the institutions that emerge and collapse as a result – is still young.
In the immediate aftermath of the Madrid bombings, people who didn’t buy the ruling party’s initial claims that the terrorists were Basque nationalists used the many-to-many communication capability afforded by the Internet to make their own media and mobilize their own spontaneous plans for actions in the face to face world. The demonstrations weren’t caused by email and SMS, just as the Korean election and US candidacy weren’t caused by OhMyNews and blogging software. People who had a strong reason to act found that they had a new means of gaining information, publishing, organizing, and creating.