30s, 60s, 00s

November 13, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Art, Society, Web

In the United States, there have been three powerful democratization surges in the last 100 years.  Each featured an experience by participants of feeling part of something larger than themselves.  It continues to astonish me how the one we are experiencing now is almost invisible to folks I know.

In the 1930s, working people were provided a voice and power to affect their lives in positive ways.  The commons emerged as a political power as people were able to realize that the process of focusing on shared resources provided a new way of viewing influence.  Democratization was viewed as a feature of the commons.

In the 1960s, democratization acquired an almost spiritual dimension as peace and new interpersonal-communication protocols became integral to understanding how the commons operated.  Integration and feminization transformed the idea of how working together worked.  I felt part of something larger than myself.

Over the last 20 years, there has been growing a third wave of commitment to the commons.  Far more subtle than the other two waves, its influence has been exponentially more powerful.  Perhaps it makes no sense to separate them; they are all part of the same process.  The process features a horizontalization of society as power shifts downward with the realization that what we have in common is more useful and significant than what we can accomplish as independents.

What began with working classes 80 years ago reemerged in the middle class in the 1960s.  This time it began in academia, quickly propagated through the programmer community and then caught fire with youth across the planet.  What emerged was the understanding that when there is no ownership, free empowers, and that what you give away makes everyone more powerful.

The commons is emerging as a potent force in social interactions as sharing becomes a default frame for our youth.  What started as a way to exchange music cheaply has exploded into new forms of creativity characterized by joint authorship and a proliferation of information to such a profound degree that a new awareness is emerging.  This new awareness demands high-quality, fast and free information as a right.  This new awareness demands access to technology that enhances creativity and sharing.  This new awareness presupposes that power congregated in the hands of a few is inappropriate because it segregates information and resources from the “users.”

We are not consumers anymore.  This third wave of democracy is abandoning the consumer economy and embracing an economy of aesthetics.  This is an aesthetic based on sharing.

Though there has been an obvious embrace of the new technologies to achieve political goals, beginning with Joe Trippi’s work in the Dean campaign, there has been little awareness among organizers I know of the sea change in the way that money is being viewed.  Owning is giving way to sharing.  The repercussions are difficult to grasp.  If we focus on the victims of the old system, it looks like little has changed.  If we realize that the control paradigm is changing, we can begin to intuit how to empower those victims.

Focus on the youth.  Watch and listen to how they achieve their goals.  Consider what it is they want.

The commons has returned.  Though what is happening now may not be as obvious as what occurred in the 30s and 60s, this time it is not fading away.


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