:: Friday, July 25, 2003 ::

The article below is my dot.communism column for the forthcoming edition of Frontline magazine.

Online Revolution

When the first printing presses began to publish seditious literature, attacking the church and the establishment, they changed history. Many believe that Martin Luthers protestant revolution would never have happened without the new medium of printing. The English revolution was also a media revolution marked by the appearance of a plethora of radical pamphlets which quickly spread throughout the country. The historian Christopher Hill, writing about the English civil war noted the direct relation between the explosion of printing from 1640-1642 and the radical upsurge that led to Cromwell and more radical groups like the Diggers and Levellers.

"A printing press was a cheap piece of machinery. Broadsides were read in taverns even to the illiterate-- and to the rank and file of the New Model Army. So all sorts of heresies were spread abroad -- Socinianism, the Koran, free love, polygamy, divorce, the perfectibility of man. Above all, uncensored printing offered the possibility of choice between alternatives and ended the state church's monopoly of opinion-forming." C. Hill Some Intellectual Consequences of the English Revolution, 1980, p.49

Could the internet offer a similar radical jolt today?

In Frontline 8 dot.communism looked at the blogging phenomenom. Blogging is a simple technology that allows users to set up a weblog. This is just a website that can be regularily updated easily by the user.

One of the most popular uses of blogs has been daily comment on the political issues of the day. This was popularised by largely pro-Bush 'warbloggers' in the US. As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq unfolded they gave daily comment and analysis.

Blogging came into its own during the Iraq war when a young blogger 'Salam Pax' in Baghdad gave regular updates about the bombing, the invasion and exactly what was going on for ordinary Iraqi's. When the electricity in Baghdad went off so did the blog. People who had read his work and felt they had got to know Salam were worried, had he died in the bombing? A few weeks after the end of the war Salam re-appeared. Now he writes occassionally for the Guardian.

One aspect of blogging which has emerged is 'fisking'. This originally referred to a dissection and criticism of the writings of Robert Fisk, the radical journalist. But it has since come to mean any such treatment of journalists and politicians by individual bloggers or teams of them. Of course the left as well as the right can use this method. Collective teams of activists, connected through email and the web, can combine their ideas to provide rapid reaction to the lies and distortions of the press. The SSP has seen its share of these and maybe its time we took up a bit of 'fisking' to hit back.

But the politicians (and journalists) have been getting on the blogging bandwagon themselves. There are now two MP's and a number of councillors who write a daily blog. Labour MP Tom Watson and Lib Dem Richard Allan both have blogs. It's a great way to keep constituents updated.

In the US, Howard Dean, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination is also participating in a blog. And US political bloggers are gearing up for a massive effort during the presidential primaries.

But there are dangers for politicians, journalists and spin doctors. Blogging cuts out the middleman. It exposes the blogger accountability from the electorate - the nurse in the hospital, the trade unionist, the school kids in the classroom.

How many times have you read an article by a journalist, in an area you have some knowledge on, and thought 'what a load of rubbish'. Now you have a greater voice, some input.

But is blogging even a partial democratisation of publishing? Is it, as some claim, helping to fulfill the potential of the internet, that accidental creation of capitalism, as a liberating tool?

Of course there are real problems with a view of democracy that depends not only on the financial means to own a computer but also on having the technological nous both to find the information you need, and to participate in the process.

However let's remember that in 1640 most people outside of London couldn't read. It didn't stop the publishing revolution and its profound effects on human society.

The houses of parliament recently saw a meeting called by bloggers and blogging politicians to examine the phenomena and its potential.

To date however the Scottish Parliament has not shown much initiative when it comes to information technology. The parliament website provides useful resources but its all one way traffic. E-democracy is still just a buzz word.

The SSP to its credit has its own blog on our news site - http://scottishsocialistparty.info/. Maybe we will see some of our MSP's getting in on the act as well?

:: Alister | 1:55 pm | save this page to del.icio.us Save This Page | permalink⊕ | |


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