How The Interwebz Helped Bring Donald Trump To Power

Go with me here.

This is no typical political analysis. Rather, it’s a journey through some of the deep– and invisible– changes in society triggered, in part, by the development of communications technologies. Specifically, the internet. And, while it appears to be about Donald Trump, I believe it goes a long way toward explaining educator resistance to bringing technologies– and the related dispositions– into the classroom.

by ShonEjai*

The Trump connection starts with the acknowledgement that a significant swath of America’s population feels left behind. Let me trouble the phrase “left behind” for a minute. It implies that people have been victimized, which further implies that there has been a victimizer. In the context of the election, the term “victim” implies that people have been defrauded, bamboozled, exploited, maybe even discriminated against: lied to or let down by the promise/premise of the so-called American Dream, for example. At least worse off than they were a decade ago.

I can see how this would make people really, really angry. I happen to believe that anger is always secondary to fear; it follows that people who feel angry about being victimized to also feel afraid. Anger and fear are amorphous, though. One of the only ways to cope with these intangibles? Pin the blame on something real. I think Obama got pinned. Hillary– the “They” who are somehow succeeding in ways the left behinds are not.

I want to trace these feelings to larger shifts, deep enough to be almost invisible, but profound enough to affect all aspects of American society and every individual living within it. In other words, these shifts are not Trump-specific. (In fact, I believe they’re at the foundation of resistance throughout education to technologies and their mindsets. But that’s a post for another time.)

Cracks in the Old

binary code

by Garik Barseghyan*

Sociologist Manuel Castells, who has studied the internet and its effects for decades, says that somewhere around the turn of the century, a perfect storm of factors coalesced to spark an avalanche of changes.

Technologies, especially information and communication technologies related to the internet developed with incredible speed.

Boundaries of all kinds began to blur, especially those that defined nations; cultures started to mix, with customs, languages, religions bumping up against one another.

As economies shifted from local to global, notions of “work” began to splinter. Specialized producers and users of information moved apart  from “generic” labor and the daily lives of these workers became separate from the new global flows. Castells (2010) describes these workers as “discarded individuals whose value as workers/consumers is used up, and whose relevance as people is ignored.” (382) Think of the anger that exploded among steel workers, coal miners, the auto industry. Think of the promises to slow down or stop the move towards gloabalization; think of the promises to bring these workers into the fold of the new economies….

Coping With The New

While none of the factors Castells discusses caused the other, they have worked synergistically; that is, each increases the effects and development of every other factor. I believe that it’s the digital technologies of the Web that have made the widest cracks in what we once thought of as “normal” life.

These disruptions in “normal” change the kind of mindset people need for living now. They change “future” people expect to work and live in.

If I felt discarded, increasingly separate from the ways the new economics was flowing around– and away– from me, I would feel not only bewildered, I would feel very, very angry.

But I’m not. People like me live lives where technologies aren’t add-ons, they’re simply part of the daily landscape. Many of us “get” that there are new ways of representing information, making and sharing new knowledge, publishing and distributing what we think. New ways of connecting and working with other people we may never meet face to face. Many of us understand that because of the Web, our lives are broader than where we live or who we know.

Castells writes,

“…if a population feels threatened by unidentifiable, multi-dimensional fear, the framing of such fears under the codes of immigration, race, poverty, welfare, crime, job loss, taxes, threat, provides an identifiable target, defines an us versus them, and favors those leaders who are most credible in supporting what is perceived to be a reasonable dose of racism and xenophobia.”

Does this sound familiar?

There’s No Place Like Home

The internet has made huge shifts possible in everyday life. Except, that is, if you’re poor, don’t have a college degree or even a very good secondary education, don’t have a computer that’s connected to the internet– or have no access at all. And even if you’re poor, maybe are the first one to get to college, if you come from a family that hasn’t lived in the new world arising with the World Wide Web, you’re behind. Sure, you can get onto Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, the social media of the moment, but having not lived in new world, you expect different things, of yourself and others. You have a different idea of what’s possible for you.

You simply see life in a different way.

stormy landscape

by Brigitte Werner*

Castells calls the culture of the Web the spirit of innovation of the information age. If you grow up outside of that, you have missed out.

And so, we come to November 8, 2016. And all of the people who have watched the world change without them come to the polls. Those who have seen the hands-on work that’s been the center of their community slow down, die. Who have seen the very idea of community implode. Those who never got to college because in their time, there was work, a life, possible without college. Those who are used to top-down decision-making, single authorities and experts. Those who understood and played by the rules. In the culture of innovation of the Web, all that has changed.

New ideas of “community;” mechanisms for learning and working built on digital technologies, an understanding of finding and using information to create new knowledge; new ways to work with others to make things; new attitudes about solving problems. The changes have seeped into the economics, politics, ways of writing and expressing ideas, communicating with others….

“Since the 1950s, do you think American culture and way of life has mostly changed for the better, or has it mostly changed for the worse?” asked a survey of the PPRI (Public Policy Research Institute). The majority of respondents, 53%, said it’s mostly changed for the worse.

What do we make of the word, “culture?” It’s an amalgam of much that is tacitly known and accepted: values; views on the characteristics of good art, music, writing; assumptions about the roles of men, women, children; beliefs about power, authority, community; etc., etc.

These are the very notions that the effects of the internet have shaken loose.

So you come to the polls. You are angry or you are sick at heart; you are afraid. You are homesick, so homesick, for what was once familiar.

And you vote.

 

 

 

line drawing of hand holding ballot

by Olli-Pekka Hannu*

 


Bibliography

 

*All images CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.com

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