restricted access 5. The Wiki Revolution and the New People Power
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Chapter 5 The Wiki Revolution and the New People Power Recent technological developments have transformed organizational models and methods of collaboration. The Internet is at the center of the ongoing revolution in communications, enabling new forms of organization and greater dissemination of information. Prior to the Internet, physical proximity usually determined one’s associates, but now people are linked across great distances and national borders.1 Over two billion people worldwide now have Internet access, and when they organize , they tend to do so by affinity. The communities of affinity forged through the Internet build a sense of collective identity, resulting in “virtual communities” not unlike the “imagined communities”Benedict Anderson wrote about in his study on nationalism.2 Like-minded dissidents, who previously had a difficult time finding one another, can now form groups more easily.3 New communications technologies have greatly reduced transmission time and costs, while substantially increasing the complexity and scope of the information that can be shared.4 The origins of the Internet go back to 1964, when the US Defense Department began experimenting with a new computer network based on “digital packet messaging.”5 Over the years, the network it pioneered grew slowly but steadily. By 1971 there were twenty-three hosts, and ten years later eight hundred.6 By 2010 the network included an estimated 769 million hosts.7 In 2011, an estimated 2.1 billion people around the world used the Internet.8 Accompanying this trend have been improvements in the technical qualities of computers, which have enhanced the Internet’s capabilities. The Internet offers several advantages for political activists, including decen­ trali­ zation and ease of access. It represents many communications breakthroughs in a single medium.9 As a result, it empowers dissident movements in a number of ways. First, it allows greater interconnectivity, the power to communicate and network with far more people and more quickly than ever before. Second, it enables covert communication and anonymity.Third, Internet access is inexpensive, thus increasing its availability. Fourth, the Internet allows dissidents to circumvent restrictions on speech and avoid censorship.10 The communications revolution has empowered individuals , making it possible to move money, products, information, and ideas across borders, previously done mostly by governments and big corporations.11 Of course, the Internet can also be used by terrorists to disseminate propaganda, communicate, raise money, and plan and coordinate operations. 89 New Models of Organization In his classic study The Logic of Collective Action (1965), Mancur Olson argued that group formation is difficult because potential members find little incentive to join. According to Olson, rational individuals weigh the costs and benefits of creating and joining associations. Initially, the costs of membership and participation usually exceed tangible benefits, making collective action problematic.12 When benefits are widely diffused, a free-rider problem also sometimes inheres in the process of group formation: why should individuals join if they will receive collective benefits whether they join or not? Those who form groups must find ways to surmount these problems. Since there are a plethora of interest groups, clearly there must be ways to overcome the challenges of forming them.13 Traditionally, the powerful, affluent, and well-connected have had a decided advantage in group formation, but new communications technologies have lowered the cost of organizing and have made it possible for people to more easily pool resources.14 It is also easier for people to cooperate and collaborate outside traditional institutions and organizations.15 New networks and communications tools enable people to act together in ways not possible before.16 The Internet’s significant reduction of transaction costs has facilitated interest group formation as well. Ronald H. Coase first expounded on the concept of transaction costs in a 1937 article, “The Nature of the Firm.” He found that vertically integrated firms combined many tasks in their production process because it was cheaper to do them in-house. Information costs also discouraged managers from working more with other firms. With the new technology, however, it is often cheaper to get things done outside the organization.17 What is more, new social tools make possible serious, complex work that can be done by “loosely structured groups, operating without managerial direction and outside the profit motive.”18 But just how viable are online networks? One might intuit that with electronic interaction a real sense of togetherness is lacking compared with physical meetings , as well as the trust, solidarity, and sense of shared purpose necessary to sustain political and social...


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