Evgeny Morozov – technology and revolutions

After reading Martin Hand’s Hardware to everywhere: Narratives of promise and threat (2008) in which he outlines themes of technological utopia and dystopia in western democracies. I thought it would be interesting to look at some views of recent political/technological relationships and came across this article by Evgeny Morozov  on the Arab Spring. (Admittedly, we aren’t talking about technology within western democracies here, but I think a very interesting study nonetheless.)

Morozov believes the Arab Spring, should be viewed via the lens of ‘cyber-realism’. In a nutshell, he thinks, Facebook, Twitter were kind of important but they weren’t the be all and end all – good old traditional human agency was at work. One of his arguments is that previous revolutionary movements (Bolshevik; Iranian; revolutions of 1989) are remembered for the human issues not the technological means (telegraph; tape-recorder; fax machine). He says:

‘Will history consign Twitter and Facebook to much the same fate 20 years down the road? In all likelihood, yes. The current fascination with technology-driven accounts of political change in the Middle East is likely to subside…’

He may have a point, but I don’t think that means that the role technology played was that of a mere tool. Arguably, the recent uprisings would not have happened as they did if the communications infrastructure, the social media, the mobile phones and all of the other ‘things’ involved didn’t exist. It could be argued that the affordances that these ‘things’ performed were equally as powerful in determining the shape of the uprisings as the activists and that *together* they formed a hugely vigorous, rolling mashup of sociomaterial networks that was forceful enough to topple regimes.

If that’s true, the question of whether the phenomenon is dystopian or utopian, perhaps depends on your perspective.


5 Responses to “Evgeny Morozov – technology and revolutions”

  1. Chantelle Meckenstock January 15, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    Equally true in the case of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, where the radio was used to mobilise the genocidaires into murdering their neighbours. Without that technology then, the scale and speed of the murders would not have been that great.

  2. jross3 January 17, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    Steph, you might be interested in Dahlberg’s article about different “determinist” approaches to theorising the internet – this looks like a classic example of ‘uses determinism’ – http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol9/issue3/dahlberg.html

  3. Steph Carr January 17, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    Chantelle, a sobering thought. And a truly compelling reason why technology shouldn’t be dismissed as just a tool.

    Thanks for commenting.

  4. Candace Nolan-Grant January 17, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

    Reminds me of 18th/19th century arguments against teaching the working class to read: they might come upon something radical and start a revolution! (Different technology, same idea?)

    • Steph Carr January 23, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

      Hey Candace, yes, I see that. It’s almost like a deliberate agnosticism – let’s not diss the tech entirely because a lot of people rather like it and it’s probably here to stay. But let’s not big it up either, just in case people start believing in what it can do.

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