Conduits of Change

Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world.  Hence, dialogue cannot occur between those who want to name the world and those who do not wish this naming–between those who deny other men the right to speak their word and those whose right to speak has been been denied them.
-Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

In the Control Revolution, James Beniger writes that the definition of revolution is twofold: it can mean both the original meaning of the word, as a “restoration of a previous form of government” (7) and what it has evolved into, as something of the opposite nature than restoration but that of an abrupt and violent change.  Beniger shows that there is a revolution in the abrupt changes in mass media and telecommunication technology.  However, it also has a second meaning in that it represents “the beginning of a restoration of the economic and political control that was lost at more local levels of society during the Industrial Revolution” (7).

 Referring back to an article I wrote in September on information communication technologies and social change, I am beginning to understand language as an expression (in any form from drawing to voice to dance to a twitter feed) that is always motivated by something greater than its existence.

The mass dissemination and documentation of language has wielded its power over thought patterns for centuries.  Lynn Hart discusses the importance of language in revolutions in the article The Rhetoric of Revolution in France.  Hart writes that “the crumbling of the French state after 1786 let loose a deluge of words—in print, in conversations, and in that novel form for most French people, the political meeting.  There had been a few dozen periodicals—hardly any of which carried what we call news—circulating Paris during the 1780s; more than 500 appeared between 14 July 1789 and 10 August 1792” (Hart, 78).

When making comparisons to the past, we usually focus a great deal on are those radical newspapers–the printed word–a tool for revolution analogous to the social media tools used today.  However, it was mostly in those political meetings, where the convergence and divergence of language in its immediacy created the mass organization needed for a successful revolution.  It was in the familiar and the personal that true change was allowed.  Paulo Freire writes in his seminal piece, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, that “human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men transform the world.”

Similarly, in our modern revolutions, there has been the same dismissal of the true motivation for social change.  Devex, a clearinghouse of business and recruiting services for international development, interviewed Dalia Ziada, a blogger in Egypt during the revolution.  The most salient point that Ziada makes in her interview is that the Internet is “not the thing that made the revolution.  The Internet provided a window to get the knowledge they needed.  But without them feeling a need to do something, without them feeling moved from inside, the revolution was not going to happen”  (76).

Time and time again modern tools are lauded as harbingers of change in society, but we see that at the heart of change is a deep connection to fraternal and familial ties.  It was initially a love of family that brought people out into the streets.  Mohamed Bouazizi, the now famous Tunisian to whom the revolutions have been attributed, was moved by the government officials encroaching on his property.  And so again, the impetus for change must come from an urgency that is incited by the private being seized upon by the public.

Sarah Inman

Sarah is a former Georgetown CCT student and assistant managing editor for gnovis. She comes from Louisiana where she studied Political Science, wrote for a local newspaper, and ran from hurricanes. She is interested in exploring the invisible and forgotten--from infrastructures to human beings. Her writings aspire to raise questions about technology's role in politics, identity, and international development. When she's not studying, writing or talking to all of you, she likes to brew beer, laugh at improv comedy, dream about living in the Wind River Mountain Ranges, and go to live shows.