This week FluxofThought is participating in a blog tour of Clayton Crockett and Jeffrey Robbins’ Religion, Politics, and The Earth: The New Materialism. This week we will be going through the chapters chronologically and giving a first critical look at the text.
The first chapter of Crockett and Robbins’ handles the revolutionary potentials of the Internet and social media. Crockett and Robbins make a great effort to explain the role that social media played in Iran’s 2009 presidential elections and in the Arab Spring. Crockett and Robbins posit that Twitter was essential for coordinating protest. This observation about political dissent and Twitter helps one recognize the negotiation between the material and immaterial.
Crockett and Robbins say, “…the transformation of the media landscape made possible by the rise of social media is a necessary cause, but not a sufficient one, for positive political change.” Social media becomes an important political tool. Crockett and Robbins make the distinction that the utilization of twitter for political purposes is the creation of a “little brother:” a use of media that circumvents the control of the state apparatus.
However, it is not simply the state apparatus that draws concern, but “…it is the technology and the corporate collusion that makes Big Brother’s dream of a surveillance society a viable possibility.” It’s not simply the state apparatus that is problematic, but it is also that the state and capitalist political economy are entangled.
The entanglement of capitalism and state moves beyond what Marx called the free laborer toward what one might call the free consumer. Individuals have the ability to make their own choices on what they want to consume. With online marketplaces, the individual consumer has total control. Crockett and Robbins explain that this is “Big Brother with a softer side”
Crockett and Robbins locate a revolutionary potential in digital culture and social media. Largely, I find Crockett and Robbins convincing, though there is a great deal of nuance that is missed. Understanding Twitter is a tool for resistance is fine, but it neglects the serious critique that media ecology brings.
Specifically, I think to Paul Virilio’s grey ecology. Green ecology is the study of the impact of material pollution on nature; in a like matter grey ecology is the study of the pollution of technology and speed on media and history. Grey ecology is an examination of speed and technology on the finitude of the human subject.
Virilio has a particularly interesting take on technology and speed, a type of analysis he calls dromology. Simply, it is the case that “We are replacing the expanse of the world with speed.” The relations of speed supplant the real existing geography.
In regards to Twitter and social media, it is as Virilio says “…‘real time’ now takes precedence over real space.” There is a certain tele-objectivity when one looks at twitter. When one views their twitter feed one watches a flow of information in ‘real time.’ This is the instantaneity of news and media. Overall, this isn’t bad or problematic, but simply it requires a certain consideration. Twitter, a technology that is a part of the dromosphere, accelerates one’s perception of time and history. One feels a sort of limit of perspective, maybe even claustrophobia when watching a Twitter feed. Twitter moves incredibly fast: it is not possible for one to read every tweet.
It is certainly the case that Twitter can be used toward a revolutionary end, though one cannot neglect the speed that is involved in social media and the Internet. The revolutionary cannot forget the inverse of speed, slowness. The Internet is not a neutral technology: capitalism has colonized, if not seized altogether, the Internet. The only form of resistance to speed is deceleration: slowing down work and the production of media.
Certainly, let us use all of the tools at our disposal against capitalism toward a revolutionary end, but let us not be pushed into hyper-reality. Let us oscillate between resisting with speed and slowness. Do not be bound to one type of resistance, but use every tool and every mode of life against capital.