Follow… Me – Nationalism Diminishes In The Global Human Net

Bandera americana, pin para solapa, photo by Daquella manera
Photo by Daquella manera

Tim O’Reilly said the following about Obama’s use of social media in a recent Q&A on one of IBM’s business marketing sites.

“Clearly there are some new channels for outreach and new channels for listening to what people are telling you. Barack Obama built a really effective platform with—and it is really important to understand that it was a social media platform. If you went there you could set up your own blog, you could set up your own events, you could run a fund-raiser, so it was really a platform for organizing. In some ways you would have to say that was the most successful start-up of the last couple of years. After all, they raised $100 million dollars and then used it to take over the world’s largest company.”

Putting aside O’Reilly’s corporatist metaphors for another time, from what little I know Obama ran a “50 state” campaign, in pursuit of taking the national office. He and Axelrod used a social platform to run a state-based strategy, with a national effect as a result.  What else do we mean when we say that “all politics are local”?

I keep observing how we’re increasingly living in a more tribal environment, or in socio-political terms a more republic/state/city/group-centered game, rather than the federalist/nationalist game.  Maybe the republic of farmers that Thomas Jefferson envisioned have not turned out to plant seeds so much as grow code, media, music, global networks that are actually small networks (regional or niche subject based) of interested people…. growing consciousness.

I don’t have research citations to satisfy the quantitative appetite, just a gut feeling from the sieve-like life I eek out. This gut feeling though seems non-trivial.  In my own trans-cultured experience (family histories with so much restless seeming immigration & colonialism, mixing, new world, old world, indigenous) and in academic media work I’ve been reading, what I keep hearing/feeling is that nations are really artificial, concepts, more than deep social human realities.  This matters a lot, we need to build social media environments that resonate with the reality of human experience, not ones based on artificial/ideal/false notions that came from the past if we are to make the epic changes needed now in the face of global environmental challenges of extreme proportion.

“Of the many unforeseen consequences of typography, the emergence of nationalism is, perhaps, the most familiar” - Marshall McLuhan
“Of the many unforeseen consequences of typography, the emergence of nationalism is, perhaps, the most familiar”  –Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

Mass use of movable type helped homogenize culture. (Marshall McLuhan and others have talked at length about this.) Distribution of cheaply reproduced printed texts was instrumental in making a preferred language dialect and accent normative and other dialects or accents “lesser”, etc. Easy enough to do when people were ruled by texts and submitted themselves to texts via unquestioning belief, and looking at history this happened all too quickly– only 16 human generations since Gutenberg… and we each directly know 2 to 3 prior generations.

Today, now that we’re clearly moving away from print-centered environments, and into multimedia centered modes (with massive generational tripping along the way; just look at the publishing industry), we’re arriving again at more oral centered environments (as Lance Strate mentioned recently), we’re more tribal… clear shiboleths abound in our network-converged global culture, and are continually created as people evolve them to maintain each tribe.  McLuhan’s conservative side in part feared the tribe I think, but today we see that we’re waking up to a new paradigm based on observing our social selves, together, in ways that only the social web makes visible, reintroducing us to our selves. Following flags seem less important than following friends. Yet big questions remain. How do we make the big changes needed to mend the gap between the reality of our crumbling health & environment and the unsustainable & depletist nationalist dreams we’ve been stuck in for far too long? How can we re-connect?