December 16, 2011
Wired January 2011 "20.01"
Forget anarchy. Today's prtests, revolts and riots are self organizing, hyper-networked -- and headed for a city near you.
Let’s start with the fundamental paradox: Our personal technology in the 21st century—our laptops and smartphones, our browsers and apps—does everything it can to keep us out of crowds.The year 2011 brought waves of crowd unrest on a worldwide scale unseen for more than three decades. From January’s revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia through a summer of sit-ins and demonstrations in Europe, India, and Israel to the Occupy Wall Street movement in the fall, the past year saw a new generation of activists rediscover—and subtly reinvent, through social media—the massive street action as a means of political expression. In trying to understand how and why crowds go wrong, you can have no better guide than Clifford Stott, senior lecturer in social psychology at the University of Liverpool. Stott has risked his life researching his subject. Specifically, he has spent most of his career—more than 20 years so far—conducting a firsthand study of violence among soccer fans. On one particularly dicey trip to Marseilles in 1998, Stott and a small crowd of Englishmen ran away from a cloud of tear gas only to find themselves facing a gang of 50 French toughs, some of them wielding bottles and driftwood. “If you are on your own,” a philosophical fellow Brit remarked to Stott at that moment, “you’re going to get fucked.” This, in a sense, is the fundamental wisdom at the heart of Stott’s work—though he does couch it in somewhat more respectable language.
To the first question, at least, Raddon has come up with a preliminary answer, and it’s a smart one, because it gets at the changing nature of the subculture he inhabits. It has become a cliché these days to talk about “engagement” in social media, about the magical way that some users and institutions online are able to punch above their weight, as it were, in the devotion of their relatively small groups of followers. But among dance music fans, super-engagement is a real and rational phenomenon, because social media serves not just as a diversion or a supplemental source of information but as the entire lifeline of their scene. Even the largest house acts have tended not to be on major labels. Raddon himself is signed to a small New York-based outfit called Ultra Records, which sells all its music online; it’s vanishingly rare for an Ultra artist to hit the Billboard Hot 100, but the label’s YouTube channel is the fifth-most-viewed music channel of all time and the 11th-most-viewed channel of any type. Unless you’re extremely diligent about following Raddon or his label or other big acts on social media, you might never hear about even the major shows in your area.