[iDC] "How (bravely) the mammet twitters!”

john sobol john at johnsobol.com
Thu Jun 18 12:48:47 UTC 2009

Hi Ulises and all...

On 18-Jun-09, at 7:36 AM, Ulises Mejias wrote:

> John,
> Thank you for your comments. But are we perhaps confusing the  
> finger for the thing it is pointing at?

Not at all, as we shall see...

> What is remarkable about the events in Iran is that people have  
> taken to the streets to challenge an illegitimate election. The  
> fact that some people are using Twitter to disseminate the news  
> about the events, by-passing traditional media, is important but  
> has little to do with what has motivated the Iranian youth to take  
> to the streets.

Well, motivation is a funny thing. On a very practical level, a  
message received indicating the otherwise unknown time and place of a  
popular protest, delivered via a mechanism that is inherently  
secretive and scalable such that the receiver knows that hundreds and  
thousands of others nearby are receiving the same message, may in  
fact be the vital trigger that 'motivates' someone to overcome fear  
and or/inertia to leave their home and try to fulfill a collective  
destiny in a repressive and risky context.

Though if you think you are telling anyone anything they don't know  
by pointing out that such transmissions are the result of a series of  
complex social events, and are happening as part of a vast web of  
personal emotions and socio-political dynamics, then you are mistaken.

> Twitter is not what has made or will make this movement successful,  
> although not surprisingly, we in the West have reframed this  
> uprising to be all about us: it's about how *we* get the  
> information, and about the 'revolutionary' potential of our latest  
> technological gadgets (potential that always seems somehow to elude  
> us here at home, unfortunately). Already the Internet is awash with  
> opinions from Web 2.0 gurus about how Iran is the Twitter  
> revolution (much like Estonia was the Facebook revolution, some  
> other place was the YouTube Revolution, and so on). Maybe it's just  
> me, but I find this kind of technophilic argument reductionist and  
> self-serving. Please give people, not corporate tools, their due  
> credit.

I fail to see how I was not giving people credit in my response  
(rejecting as it did your insistence that twitterers are engaged in  
sub-human activity that can never contribute to achieving social  
equality) by choosing to celebrate human agency and courage.

Also, Obama's election was in fact a kind of web-fuelled social  
revolution. It is maybe not the revolution 'you' want, but it is the  
one millions did, so if we are talking about not giving people credit  
I think you might start there.

> Having said that, I also don't want to pretend that new  
> technologies don't matter. I find Naeem Mohaiemen's piece on the  
> Iranian protests quite insightful:
> "The Iranian state is getting desperate, and tries to throttle  
> internet traffic, block SMS flow, scramble satellite TV feeds. But  
> every few seconds there is a twitter giving new proxy addresses  
> that can be accessed from inside Iran. Even with net speed down to  
> a crawl, activists keep pushing information through. We will bypass  
> all filters."
> http://unheardvoice.net/blog/2009/06/17/iran-filters/
> Previously, Naeem says, "protests fade as the government waits  
> until protestors are exhausted." Now, perhaps, Twitter keeps the  
> momentum going. But let's not pretend that this is the kind of  
> effect sociable media is intended to have on the masses.

This is, I am afraid, laughable. Who in the world uses terms like  
'masses' anymore, or thinks that it could be relevant? And who thinks  
that the inventors of Twitter sat down and calculated the 'effect' it  
was going to have on the 'masses', in the way you mean it? Give me a  

And if as you acknowledge, Twitter 'keeps the momentum going', unlike  
failed revolts of the past, does this not seem rather significant? !!!

> The fact that all we can do is consume tweets about what is  
> *happening* elsewhere is an indication of how the system is really  
> supposed to work.

As your own quote by Naeem above points out, this is not what is  
happening. In fact there is a feedback loop of immense energy in play  
involving thousands of people in Iran and around the world, who are  
actively sharing information to and for each other, including  
redirecting news from Iran back into Iran via external agents, both  
corporate and atomic, to support the street-level actions. (props to  
Huffington Post!)

> *We* (who failed to organize any kind of reaction against our own  
> election fraud) are the mammets, not the people who--out of  
> necessity or choice--revert back to the unmediated action of their  
> bodies.

Maybe so, maybe so. Or maybe we, by participating in this techno- 
social network, are, like our brave cousins, something more, rather  
than something less.


> -Ulises
> ----- Original Message ----
> From: john sobol <john at johnsobol.com>
> To: Ulises Mejias <uam2101 at columbia.edu>
> Cc: iDC at mailman.thing.net
> Sent: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 10:04:22 PM
> Subject: Re: [iDC] "How (bravely) the mammet twitters!”
> On 16-Jun-09, at 12:27 PM, Ulises Mejias wrote:
>> In the new economics of 'mammet-generated content,' the users are  
>> mindless, sub-human.
>> They are too small to count except in the aggregate. They performs  
>> mindless repetitive tasks;
>> they twitter. But they are also dangerous. There is a potential  
>> threat living inside these
>> Mechanical Turks, a dwarf genius. They are the masses who could  
>> potentially discover --if
>> sociable media wasn't so much darn fun!-- that of all possible  
>> configurations, the network is
>> being actualized as a machine for generating more, not less,  
>> inequality. In this economy, there
>> is no difference between toil and play, and that's not accidental.  
>> The new mammet must be
>> kept engaged in endless twittering--otherwise, it might go jihadi  
>> all over the network.
>> -Ulises Mejias
> A couple of days ago I started writing an atypically benign  
> response to the above, atypical as I have on this listserv been  
> pretty hardcore in the past in challenging what I see as the  
> extreme one-sidedness of the argument that Ulises so effectively  
> articulates here, but the extraordinary events in Iran have been so  
> distracting that I only now find myself with a few minutes to  
> continue writing, and as I do so I see that these current events  
> constitute a far more compelling real-world rejection of the mammet  
> metaphor than anything I could have written. For lo, here we have  
> the mammet rising up and almost literally 'going jihadi all over  
> the network' but without leaving the Mechanical Turk! It is in fact  
> the golem with a flower, the Mechanical Turk dancing for peace.
> Is it not so?
> How is it that these once 'mindless sub-humans' have ridden the  
> back of Twitter to rise up and smite their oppressors? Does this  
> not make a mockery of experts in theoretical revolution, who have  
> insisted that capitalist networks are inherently anti- 
> revolutionary, inherently anti-human, anti-inspiration? Not that  
> cyberwarfare can't be waged from both sides. Or course it can.  But  
> these mammets bravely tweeting understand that human agency lies  
> within human actors, and that 'the system' is never monolothic.  
> That freedom is not necessarily abdicated by participating in a  
> techno-social-network within a capitalist structure, especially  
> when participation consists of telling a meaningful story to real  
> human ears. In fact, it is enhanced, regardless of the ads inserted  
> nearby.
> So may they tweet on in Iran, and come to enjoy the fruits of their  
> user-generated revolt, even as Twitter gains value and somewhere  
> stockbrokers giggle in anticipation of its IPO.
> John Sobol
> --
> www.johnsobol.com
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