One would imagine that a loosely coordinated, leaderless, and predominantly unpaid group would:
a) be ineffective
b) not really be much fun to be a part of.
Nevertheless, with the advent of the Internet and its spawn, networks and social media, these groups have proved to be incredibly powerful and clearly they must provide some sort of sense of enjoyment, or at least satisfaction, judging by their ever-expanding popularity. These groups that I am referring to here are essentially comprised of everyday citizens from across the globe, who have banded together in order to challenge traditional governments and institutions. Some of these groups are called Tea parties, with members respectively getting together in an informal manner.
The average individual has also been afforded greater power thanks to the Internet and its abundance of speedy, cost-effective information and the means to connect with people. It enables one to be part of a network without having to even leave the house. Hence, new media has “expanded the space and power of the individual” (Mason 2011).
However, for those that are disgruntled by governments or some other form of institution and work best collectively, these grass roots groups are everywhere. There is no paper work, no signing documents, just a willingness to cooperate and work together.
The strength of these groups in contrast to traditional governments and institutions actually rests on “The absence of structure, leadership, and formal organization” (Brafman & Beckstrom 2010). Based on decentralization, nobody is really in charge, hence everyone is empowered with knowledge and is therefore useful. Furthermore, new media, most importantly networks, provides the speedy means to communicate and assemble people and get things done.
As there is no leader, there is nobody to single out and eliminate, and because of networks, the groups are fragmented and far-reaching, which also makes them difficult to destroy. This results in a powerful group that essentially has an infinite number of reserves.
Through these avenues, citizens are becoming active participants in their own governance, consequently, traditional governments and institutions are taking notice and are sloooowly trying to modernise, in an effort to maintain control. Such examples are Government 2.0 and transparency. Whilst transparency is some kind of small step forward, as Lessig states “We are not thinking critically enough about where and when transparency works, and where and when it may lead to confusion, or to worse (Lessig 2009, p.1). Besides problems such as suspicion over everything that is not disclosed, as well as unfairly tarnished reputations, the information that is now available to the general public is often incomprehensible. The average person is generally not equipped with the knowledge to interpret government information. Hence, transparency can be seen as rather useless and as a façade for governments pretending to more actively involve citizens in governance.
What the future has in store for governments and the progressively active citizen is a mystery. What I do know, is that now that citizens have had a taste of power and success, they will be reluctant to relinquish this new control. For governments to maintain an effective position, they need to properly tap into new media and genuinely work with the public, whilst instilling knowledge in order to prevent them seeking it out.
Brafman, O & Beckstrom R.A. 2010, ‘The Power of Leaderless Organizations: Craigslist, Wikipedia And Al Qaeda All Demonstrate How An Absence Of Structure Has Become An Asset, National Journal, 11 November, accessed 19 April 2011, http://www.nationaljournal.com/njonline/the-power-of-leaderless-organizations-20100911.
Lessig, L 2009, ‘Against Transparency: The perils of openness in government’, The New REPUBLIC, 9 October, accessed 19 April 2011, http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/against-transparency?page=0,0.
Mason, P 2011, ‘Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere’, Idle Scrawls BBC, 5 February, accessed 19 April 2011, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2011/02/twenty_reasons_why_its_kicking.html>.