Best-selling author Douglas Rushkoff, shares his thoughts about how Facebook and Twitter spark local movements rather than large-scale ones — in the kick off to our Social Media Week coverage.
In preparation for PSFK‘s upcoming presentation on The Future of Gaming at Social Media Week (SMW), we will be interviewing a number of keynote speakers and panelists presenting at SMW who will be discussing the global impact of social media and its role as a catalyst in driving cultural, economic, political and social change in developed and emerging markets. Douglas Rushkoff is the author of ten best-selling books and three award-winning Frontline documentaries on new media and popular culture. His commentaries have aired on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s All Things Considered, and have appeared in Time magazine and The New York Times. Douglas lectures about media, art, society, and change at conferences and universities around the world.
Please tell us a little about your presentation at Social Media Week. Is it clear that technology has facilitated the speed, ease, and strength of social mobilization and protest? Do you think it’s fair to draw comparisons between the Occupy Wall St. movement of today and protests of the 1960’s?
I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be saying. Depends on what happens over the next few weeks, I suppose. There’s a cultural weather that seems to determine a whole lot about the way people respond to ideas, so what I say may look different depending on what’s going on in everybody’s world. The underlying message will have to do with patience, and the ability to engage in an Internet era movement. As I see it, 21st Century activism is fundamentally different from the spirited movements of the 60’s or the whole last century. Instead of following a charismatic leader on a narrative journey, movements like Occupy or even Anonymous are about changing the present rather than the future. They are patient and incremental rather than driven and apocalyptic. I don’t think it’s so much about social media making things easier to organize, as social media reversing the top-down environment of corporate media.
We have noticed that people with similar interests, hobbies and needs can get to meet today through smart services that use a mix of social, location and demographic data to match profiles. Networks are looking at their members profiles on their site and across the social graph and link people up based on interests, needs, location. How has this seamless interconnectivity affected civic movements? What kind of opportunities does it present for the future/future collaborations around shared purpose?
Well, I think the marketing frame you’re using could very well spell the death of this wonderful emergence of social activism. The social web has rekindled local ties that aren’t easily understood or over-simplified. Social media has not led to big global movements as much as lots of local ones. The kids on the streets or in the jails of Oakland right now have a common interest to the ones in Zucotti Park, but they are a different population. These things aren’t as easily branded, and that’s good.
In other words, I think it’s a mistake to look at one’s social activism through the lens of brand affiliations and other mediated alliances. This is the opposite thing happening.
What else are you looking forward to at Social Media Week?
I’m not sure, really. I have no expectations. I hope I run into some interesting people, and that people who come to my talk are changed by it.