I’ll be in London Thurday and Friday for a conference at Royal Holloway, University of London, called Politics: Web 2.0. I am presenting work-in-progress on ‘The Labors of Internet-Assisted Activism: overcommunication, miscommunication, and communicative overload’. Based on some field research I have done on the role of new media in primary campaigns here in the US, I want to give some push-back on the notion that new media simply lowers the costs of communication. While that is certainly true, and has been argued forcefully, most recently by Clay Shirky in his very, very interesting book, Here Comes Everybody, I want to add to that the complications that follows from precisely that–when costs of communicating are low for every individual, and the number of platforms of communication is increased, there will simply be more communication, and the aggregate transaction costs are not easy to keep down, and this creates all sorts of complications of overcommunication, miscommunication, and communicative overload.
my paper is available here. Comments are most welcome!
Abstract: This paper analyze the problems of overcommunication, miscommunication, and communicative overload that internet-assisted activism in contemporary incarnations suffer from. Pushing beyond web research and into ethnographic fieldwork amongst activists involved in the 2008 U.S. presidential primary, I demonstrate how the supposed wonders of new technologies, including the low-cost communication they provide, comes with new and peculiar problems that are only really visible on the ground, prices that are only paid in practice. Even in a case like mine, where resources like money, skills, and volunteers were amble, and everyone involved in a race in a state with much at stake had the incentives to make the whole thing sparkle, internet-assisted activism turns out to be more laborious in practice than in theory and hyperbole. Drawing on the work of Bruno Latour and organizational sociologists like David Stark, I trace the complications that arise as the number of communicators, communications, and modes of communication multiply as new organizational forms, based on internet elements and greater volunteer participation, are introduced into political campaigning. I chronicle the orientation and composition, and reorientation and recomposition, of the people who accept the invitation to participate extended by websites exclaiming ‘we need you!’ and connect the socio-technological study of internet-assisted activism to current debates over the connections between political practices and civic engagement in America.