In 2011, "movements" originating from the Internet shook the world. They included revolutions in the Middle East, rioting in London and the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations in the United States. What they share in common is that they all spread through social networking services (SNS) such as Facebook and Twitter, which set off a chain reaction to prompt young people to participate in protests.
In a dialogue with brain scientist Kenichiro Mogi that ran in the December issue of Chuokoron magazine, Daisuke Tsuda, a journalist, called the impact of this series of protests "a revolution of mobilization." Up to now, the potential of the Internet was believed to be in the possible reconstruction of the "public sphere"--a grass-roots forum of rational discussion among citizens--advocated by the German sociologist Jurgen Habermas by the realization of an "all-expressive society." The term, coined by Mochio Umeda, an IT enterprise management consultant, refers to a society in which anyone can freely transmit information.
But now, the potential of the Internet lies not in "discussions" but in "mobilization." People who are connected through SNS are getting together, giving vent to their anger one after another and filling the streets as if they are taking part in a massive offline gathering. To make a parody of the title of a film by poet and dramatist Shuji Terayama (1935-1983) "Throw Away Your Books. Rally in the Streets," young people now are rallying in the streets through the Internet.
This idea is the driving force that is shaking the world today.
Of course, we cannot welcome the situation without reservation. As was the case with the riots in London, there is always the danger that angry crowds may turn into a mob. But this is unavoidable in revolutions, points out Mogi in the aforementioned dialogue. Crowds do not move because they identify with beautiful philosophies. Actually, revolutions are movements by anonymous crowds incited by rage and desire. In that sense, they are like "flaming" on the Internet. This fact remains unchanged from the time of the French Revolution, Mogi argues.
Indeed, that is true. But what is the role of the media and thoughts of the time?
Could it be that all they can do is to evaluate revolutions or flaming that occur across the world after the fact? For example, one might say the Middle East revolutions are justified because they are aimed at overthrowing dictatorships, the London rioting is bad because it is simple violence and the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are neither good nor bad because even though they are anti-capitalism, the ideologies behind them are not the same.
Or do we have no choice but to frown at the situation like post-French Revolution conservatives who said "unruly masses are nothing but trouble"?
I, for one, believe there may be a "revolution of mobilization," an idea different from those mentioned above. One might find a clue in the approach to reform society through games advocated by game designer Jane McGonigal, the author of "Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World."
People tend to think of games as a simple pastime or a means to escape from reality by someone who wants to stay away from society. By contrast, McGonigal creates "alternative reality games" that players can enjoy in real life. Moreover, the games are designed to develop into a "social movement" so that when more enthusiastic players participate, society moves toward a better direction. They include, for example, a game to develop tolerance for others by involving strangers on the street and a game to compete with one another with ideas to solve the poverty problem.
McGonigal's thinking is simple and clear. In short, reality is like good-for-nothing games, she argues. Politics, companies and schools all have complex and difficult-to-understand rules and goals. They are not designed for everyone to feel solid responses or meanings. That is why quite a few people are disillusioned at real society and find escape in virtual reality games. If so, why not make games out of reality and change it so that people find it interesting and are prompted to take part in it?
If political ideologies and beautiful ideas no longer have the power to move people, games can be the very driving force of social movements. This is McGonigal's idea of game-like social movements.
I see an alternative possibility of a "revolution of mobilization" in social revolutions not of easily angered young people, but of those who get hooked on games.
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Satoshi Hamano is a commentator and a researcher with Nihon Gigei Inc. He specializes in information society studies. He was born in 1980.
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