Monday, November 19, 2012

Boundaries of the Digital, the Tactile

"Democratic logic... consists of blurring and displacing the borders of the political.This is what politics means: Displacing the limits of the political by reenacting the equality of each and all qua vanishing conditions of the political." (Ranciere 54)

Some of the things I was thinking about while reading our main articles this week and MER articles are the boundaries that are established around the use technology and how the protests in Egypt broke those boundaries in interesting and symbolic ways. In the article detailing the events that occurred during overthrow of the Egyptian dictatorship, the author narrates in a more or less journalistic fashion that still provides palpable answers to questions like: How did people get around the city with limited transportation access? Where did they sleep? What did they eat? How did they communicate? As an anthropologist, I would think that these events are a mundane part of daily life, however, somewhere along the way, these details of existence, including cellphones, exited from the realm of the mundane and crossed into a matter of political statements. According to Rafael, the usage of cellphones in the Third World has boomed (402), thus creating a differentiation in the base of users of a tool that became intrinsic for this democratic uprising (even though some still do not have access). The cellphone indeed helped to actualize the protest, and as such, became valuable weapons to be neutralized: “Police officials devised a comprehensive scheme to cut off physical and virtual means of linkage. They ordered a shutdown of Internet and cellular phone service for the next day [the day of rage protests, January 25th]; cell phones were especially important for demonstrators to spread news of protest diffusion in real time, and to share spot instructions or eleventh-hour location changes” (El-Ghobashy 2012).

After shutting down all telecommunications in the country, the organizers were still able to distribute their message through face-to-face meetings and email printouts. Due to its seemingly democratic spread, cellphone usage is important at various stages of the formation of a politicized mass. But is it a necessary tool of information, but not the final catalyst for action? Is it needed always in the thick of the events as they unfold as an organizing and documenting tool (especially in the case of Egypt, with biased national coverage of the events)? It is obvious that cellphones and the Internet were very important battlegrounds for the incitement to rebel, but they were  not so enough that they would become detrimental once controlled by the state. Thus, once this occurred, another border was crossed, this time from the digital to the tactile. Protestors began to physically hand out fliers (in this way losing some of the anonymity of text messages, fostering deeper connections with individuals in the dissenting and diverse mass. The crossing (or combination?) from the digital to the tactile (the spray paint, the printouts) represents another point of diversity in methods that was unexpected by the state in their typology of their masses as the "Facebook kids."

 I’m afraid that some of the people who are most affected by the regime lacked the technologies of SMS and internet access, thus making the protests the realm of the middle class youth who were able to secure these technologies. Although the group of protestors called the “Facebook kids” was most visible in organizing the protests, the Egyptians that turned out (over 50%) were of modest backgrounds without access to this technology. Questions of disenfranchisement of a portion of the protesting masses is important, but the ways that youth, all youth from all classes, came together to do jobs that would not have traditionally been done by them, is democratic and admirable. They crossed the border of ideologically building Egypt to the physical realm of touching debris, removing barricades, cleaning graffiti and removing garbage (Winegar 2012). They touched the material world their ideologies had fought for the chance to build, and thus brought themselves into conversation with those of different material conditions that may not have participated in the digital uprising in the same way that middle class youth had been.

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