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Social movements 2.0

Randall F. Clemens

Originally posted on November 11, 2011

Technology is changing the ways in which people communicate their thoughts and experience their surroundings. Augmented reality apps, for instance, add layers of information to places like museum exhibits and sporting events. Twitter connects individuals to trends. Social networking sites provide quick access to information about nearby places including parks and movie theaters.

In their new book Net Locality: Why Location Matters in a Networked World, Eric Gordon and Adriana de Souza e Silva explore the implications of location-based technologies and information. They write, “The street is no longer limited to the perceptual horizon of the person walking down it. A network of information that is accessible through a mobile device augments it. The provinciality of the small town, physically isolated from the rest of the world, is potentially cosmopolitan because of the integration of information into its streets” (p 3). In short, we are now living in a blended world of physical and digital realities.

In high school, my history teacher described globalization as a sweeping force. The economies of nation-states intertwined. Capitalistic forces subsumed entire political and cultural systems. And, McDonalds restaurants ended up in once-rural African villages. Sitting at my desk with a textbook that stopped at the fall of the Berlin Wall, I remember thinking that the globalization process seemed to contain equal parts mystery and magic. I couldn’t connect my small-town experiences with the reality of a globalizing world.

Technology and connectivity, however, have transformed everything. We live in a world where the relationship between local and global is changing. Need proof? Consider the rebellions in the Middle East or Occupy movements across the globe. Social media now makes social movements both possible and effective; control of information flows equates to social, cultural, and political power.

Net Locality is a timely book that reimagines the relationship between the physical and digital and highlights the promise and peril of location-based technology. Just think: The same technology that allows you to know your friend just checked-in at a nearby restaurant may facilitate a widespread social movement to end concentrated poverty.