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Is Facebook politically useful or a disease?

Facebook can become addictive on many separate levels. As a handy only online networking tool it is second to none.

But the friggin groups! What a pain they are! There are so many causes being platformed as Facebook groups that it has long ago reached saturation point for the likes of moi.

Spare me the invitations. Spare me the angst of having to say no thankyou to a cause that in most cases is ridgy didge and kosher.

But I do have a tip: While I am not a group junkie on Facebook --- I do note that some groups work where others are simply a proverbial pain. The best of these send what are almost personal messages and updates that draw the group membership into a for real community.

In most instances political type groups adopt the very standard cultural approach of sending memos to the masses-- or at least portions of these masses -- alerting them of some significant fast approaching event.

Rent a Crowd:Just click SEND

And that's' it. Be there or be square. It's a bums on seats approach.

Now I'm not saying that we cut back and do much less of the event creation thing or that we should abhor bums on seats or drop the call for more foot soldiers at rallies or demonstrations.

"Rent a Crowd" is for real -- it is a political imperative.

This calendar fetish is unfortunately a standard across the left I am most familiar with. If T. S Elliot once wrote, "I have measured out my life in coffee spoons." I have measured out mine in event invitations. Not just on Facebook but on egroups and with hard copy flyers.

And I'm drowning. I doubt that a practising CEO could match my in box of invitations.

The problem is that when you focus on the approaching occasion you ... focus on the approaching occasion. It's organising by tick boxes. My whole life on the left has been rooted to honing just that. From paste ups, to leaflet drops, to phone calls, to word-of-mouth badgering...it is a primary collective organising resource. But now in the digital age the ascent of new technologies has obscured our aspirational prize because the weaponry are so easy to deploy -- just click SEND.

And bad habits have become ingrained like a disease.

Let's not be shy and not recognise that there's a personal angst and social comfort issue at stake here. It is so much easier to protect one's personal space by emailing or Facebooking your options. But to actually engage with someone -- even on the telephone -- isn't so easy. We aren't all born with the personality of real estate agents and we all don't have the gift of the political gab.

And I'm definitely no different. So I'm not trying to be smug.

What people don't realize is that in my current of political existence on the left -- within that current which produced, publishes and sells Green Left Weekly -- you so often are out there and on show for the whole world to relate to and you to it. You gotta talk the talk or that sale to what may be the next Che Guevera is missed. So there's a drive to force you to engage.

Oh the thrills of point of sale politics!

Similarly the American socialist leader, James P. Cannon, once argued that the activist's core political activity is to "talk socialism on the job."

Get that: talk. And by talk we mean -- and he meant -- dialogue. It's a FAQ challenge.

There's a penchant on the left , even among Marxists, to forget that the ruling principle of all existence is dialectics. Ideas and actions are to and fro entities that spiral around our noggins by touching upon our experiences and exchanges.

It is not a simple case of didactics. Note that that's a different word: it means instruction. As the late Paolo Freire insisted, didactics is like making a deposit in the same way, I guess, as one would send an email or may run a Facebook group. There's no core attempt to promote an exchange, to generate a two way process which, as he argued, fostered a very different and potent pedagogy.

Showing by example

But is a Facebook group an example of pedagogy? Sure. It can be. But you gotta make it more personal, and, if you like, less alien. What I mean is that the challenge is seeming to be "less digital" .

Here's an example: The Union Show on Facebook. This is run mainly by Debra Weddall -- its creator, and the on screen anchor for this excellent community and web television program -- and it's a fresh source of updates which are nuanced to be informational. As well as that the Union Show runs a multimedia enriched blog.

The impetus for a lot of this was to generate a campaign to sustain funding for the project but the practice of spamming, a Facebook group standard, is not part of the mix.

This makes such good sense. Here we have a group that is self evidently run by a human being not formatted by anonymity. It's fresh, it updates, it goes two ways...and I guess its also very anecdotal. The other core feature of this group is that it is not premised by a single event . which will approach with frenzied digitalising before becoming past tense.

What struck me on a recent visit to Scotland I(my first and so far only escapade over there anywhere ) was how well the Scottish socialists I mixed with related to their working periphery. The business was certainly task driven but the main energy spent was involving others in the discussing and the doing of it. It was not just about bums on seats.

These same Scots are no slouches when it comes to the web. In fact they're blog and Facebook addicts -- they are very web savvy: YouTube, even (for Crissake!) Second Life! But the whole online community thing is embedded in a very rich offline life of , that's right, toing and froing. I mean they take social networking seriously. But not so that they are distracted by the hardware they use.

In this sense the very logic of social networking is enhanced by the fact that it is indeed concretely "social" and assiduously "networked" albeit with a core political agenda.

I think a cause of this penchant I'm exploring is that the left of which Iascribe has for so long been treated as political pariahs by the bourgeois principals that it takes a bit of adjustment to recognise that they-- ie: we -- have no longer just flown in from Mars. We live here among the same community that is looking for the sort of crossroads solutions we have been advocating. Our problem is that we have internalised a distrust of our own motivations and agenda as through it is outside normal every day discourse -- that politics, especially our politics, is foreign.


1 Com:

Redragger | June 25, 2009

Another good thoughtful essay Dave.
I myself feel somewhat overwhelmed with what's on offer.

I feel I need to stay away from the computer to regain the sense of living a real existance.

I think we are experiencing a qualatative change as far as interaction between humans are concerned. For good or not I do not know except to say I want no part of it.


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