If you’ve been reading my blog since last year, you might remember my first article on technology, which was part interview, part opinion piece. I thought I’d revisit the topic and try to articulate the way my mind has changed about it. It’s not a drastic change – I’m not an avid fan of gadgets now (as evident by the picture I chose, found here) and I still don’t have a cell phone (though my husband has one)! I also continue to have deep misgivings about all the claims that social media are capable of creating any kind of sustained community. But I see, now, that there is a certain redemptive – and subversive – way to make use of technology, provided it’s in the right hands.
You may have noticed that my blog doesn’t exactly follow the conventions of the “blogosphere.” My entries are lengthier and more formal than your average blog, and, most importantly, I’m not constantly recommending products which I just happen to be using while those who sell said products are (conveniently) sponsoring me. I find it amazing how many of the blogs I’ve looked at (mainly “lifestyle” or “family” blogs) are vacuously dedicated to advertising so many things that they start to resemble one long shopping list! I mean, how long can a person read about things you want to buy and look at pictures of you showing off the things you’ve bought, as if that expresses a lot about who you are? It’s a bit much.
Facebook isn’t much better at times. If you’ve seen the movie The Social Network, you might recall that it didn’t have the most elegant or even dignified of purposes when it was first created (hint: it was to rate women’s attractiveness – classy, eh?). Its ties to mega-corporations have also become pretty obvious, since you can now “like” them, as if that expresses a lot about who you are to your friends. So facebook and other social media facilitate various ways of upholding the status quo.
But as multi-national corporations have made their way onto facebook, so have other, more grassroots organizations, with their own, more grassroots causes which are not limited to the shallow discourse of consumerism. I think it was the use of technology during the “Arab Spring” protests in various countries in the Middle East this past year that convinced me that social media could in fact be used for some important and worthy causes – albeit only if they're used against the intentions of those who created them in the first place! These protesters were organizing their acts of (predominantly) nonviolent resistance to tyranny and injustice using a tool which had been created to prop up the status quo and perpetuate the objectification of women. What an ironic, subversive, and courageous reversal! This has led to social media being seen, not merely as a benign way of meeting prospective dates and swapping shopping tips, but as a way to disobey dictators and voice political positions which their governments try to silence (for more on this, I’d recommend this lecture from CBC radio).
I like to think that in small ways, I participate in this other side of social media, the subversive underside which makes good use of technology. Of course, I’m not living in a country ruled by a dictator, and my government doesn’t (overtly) round up and imprison political dissenters. I’m not organizing any world-changing protests. But I do sign and circulate petitions from time to time, and keep informed on certain issues using non-mainstream media. I also have noticed lately how many Mennonite organizations are now on social media, including the Canadian Mennonite! For those of us on these sites, I think being connected to these (non-profit) organizations is valuable. Not only does it bring them to the attention of people who may not otherwise know about them and subvert the for-profit orientation of social media and blogs, it also truly and profoundly expresses who we are – in a way that other things (including owning the latest technological gadgets!) simply can’t.