July 23, 2008 | 2 Comments

Category: 10-The Web, Activism, Society, Web

There is a dramatic divide between older activists and younger activists on what exactly a website does. This divide becomes most evident to me when we are developing a website for a brand new Left/Progressive organization. The older users are only familiar with features that support one-to-many communications. Older users do little sharing online and do not look to a website to store their files. They certainly don’t maintain the kind of constant contact that younger users are used to nor can they tolerate as much information on screen as the young adults.

When we (when I say “we,” I usually mean Marcia and I) present the smorgasbord of features available to activists looking to build a site, no small amount of education is involved in the process. Not only are we explaining the features, we are guiding older activists on the power of horizontal communication, user-created content, enhanced communication vehicles and user-created (not just founder-created) actions and online campaigns.

A basic principle is that the more power or control an organization gives up, the more empowered is its membership. Formerly, individuals worked their way into a position of authority over time and were able to create vehicles for change (boycotts, mass protests, etc.) after establishing the connections and allies necessary to enact those changes. With tools available now, organizations can choose to defer to members or users, providing them the abilities to organize without the primate climb.

Among primates, there are the chimpanzees called bonobo. The bonobo troop-leader alpha female is relatively relaxed, with the alpha male often a close relation of the female. Since mating opportunities are pretty much ever present, there is little in the way of male hierarchical demonstrations. This community is a horizontal community, in more ways than one. Bonobos are notorious for their attention to the pleasures of sex.

With the web guiding the culture in the direction of flattening hierarchy and a lowering of the levels of authority to the users and the young, we are seeing a bonoboization of society, with an increase of female influence, focus on individual pleasure and distribution of power to everyone in the band. One-to-many website design encourages a highly hierarchical primate social structure. New web tech flattens authority, bringing into power those that were powerless before, including minorities, the young, women and other members of society that are not older white males.

Web design reflects organizational structure. Organizational structure reflects the distribution of authority. Whereas until recently an organization used to look to a website designer to enhance the ability of an organization to accomplish its goals, the designer is becoming a consultant on how exactly the organization would like to share its authority and provide an experience of personal empowerment for its members.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008 at 7:34 am and is filed under 10-The Web, Activism, Society, Web. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
2 Comments so far

  1. M on July 23, 2008 9:33 pm

    I rather think misspelling the word “lightning” is a poor advertisement for one’s website.

  2. monte on December 11, 2008 5:57 pm

    i must concur!

    While the main point itself is not a new one, this take hinges on three of my favorite topics, activism, horizontalizing power, and bonobos.

    In retrospect i think it a shame i have not seen these topics in combination before

    There is nothing more important to humans today than the central concept being pointed to here.

    Thanks to a Rush tune i’m listening to right now;
    this quote:
    “show me, don’t tell me!” (repeat ad nauseum)

    from the Tull song that followed:
    “if Jesus saves, well he better save himself”

    from Dio:
    “we’re the last in line”

    from my nonexistent anark’s handbook:
    “if there is no leader your org cannot be decapitated with one fell swoop; otherwise expect to be useless no matter how effective you seem to become”

    P.S. i reread it thrice, and cannot find lightning, much less finding it misspelled; M, is that the only thought this piece engenders in you?

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