The pitfalls of the attention economy can’t just be avoided by logging off and refusing the influence of persuasive design techniques; they also emerge at the intersection of issues of public space, environmental politics, class, and race.
Instead this is an urgent, personal recognition that my emotional and physical survival are bound up with these “strangers,” not just now, but for life.
It would make use of non-corporate, decentralized networking technology, both to include those for whom in-person interaction is difficult and to create nodes of support in different cities when staying in one place is increasingly an economic privilege.
The coordination of these groups offers witness to Arendt’s observation that dividing power does not decrease it, and that its plural interplay increases it. They achieve the best of both worlds: that of coordinated action, but also of the new ideas (Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “creative protest”) that can only arise out of plurality in the space of appearance.
In researching successful examples of resistance for this book, I came across many iterations of the space of appearance. I’m struck by one thing that hasn’t changed: while certainly supported by other forms of communication, the space of appearance is still so often a space of physical appearance. The history of collective action—from artistic movements to political activism—is still one of in-person meetings in houses, in squats, in churches, in bars, in cafés, in parks. In these federated spaces of appearance, disagreements and debates were not triggers that shut the whole discussion down, but rather an integral part of group deliberation, and they played out in a field of mutual responsibility and respect. In turn, those groups kept in touch with other groups, who kept in touch with still other groups, sometimes spanning the country—as in the case of groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or the successive layers of organized labor.
For Arendt, the space of appearance was the seed of democracy, and it was defined by any collection of people who speak and act meaningfully together.
Whether it’s a real room or a group chat on Signal, I want to see a restoration of context, a kind of context collection in the face of context collapse.
But this restraint is difficult when it comes to commercial social media, whose persuasive design collapses context within our very thought processes themselves by assuming we should share our thoughts right now—indeed, that we have an obligation to form our thoughts in public!
Just as activism requires strategic openness and closure, forming any idea requires a combination of privacy and sharing.
They believe in the creation of local internets and locally-relevant applications, the cultivation of community-owned telecommunications networks in the interest of autonomy and grassroots community collaboration, and ultimately, in owning the means of production by which we communicate.