A Digital Anarchist
I saw an interview of Nicco Mele on PBS, and was intrigued enough to read his book, The End of Big: How Internet Makes David the New Goliath. I am glad I did.
Mele does a good job of illustrating how "radical connectivity" -- the internet's capacity to reach across traditional institutional boundaries -- undermines the social structure of the world around us. While this poses some challenges, such as the decline of institutions capable of supporting good, investigative journalism -- a world of bloggers transforms the world into a colony of gossips -- it also presents opportunities to create smaller, sustainable communities.
As a baby boomer, I was somewhat chilled by Mele's generational poke. (It's time, he suggested, to start pushing we dinosaurs out of the way.) And I was unnerved to learn how little I know about the digital world all around me. The footnotes to the text are a good jumping off point for those who want to learn more about how to connect with others to improve the quality of their lives in real and material ways. But I would have liked to learn more about fundamentals: Mele presumes familiarity with the very sources he describes. A better book would have been more basic.
It's clear that the world has changed, and is changing. There is a broader crisis of legitimacy in our society. Mele gave me hope that amid the sense of drift, there is hope for a new world to emerge from the shards of the old. Whether he knows it or not, Mele is an anarchist of the highest order. Anarchism is not a celebration of chaos, but a way of reordering the world over and again to respond to discrete and unique needs of individuals. The last chapter of this short work is a neo-anarchist manifesto.
Of particular interest to me was the discussion of meshing, a means, as it were, of going off the grid provided by major service providers. I am not sure I understand fully what he was saying, but he suggested we may be able to keep internet connectivity alive even if government were to shut down major servers as a means of social control.
I recommend Mele's book to anyone who wants a roadmap to what the Internet has to offer. In a world in which partisan politics has descended into rhetorical and pragmatic irrelevance, Mele's book offers a place to start building an effective set of responses to a world seemingly spinning out of control. There's a brave new world out there. Mele helps introduce us to why it is also a hopeful world.