Nathan Jurgenson writes: Earlier this year, there was a spat that was both silly and superficial over the terms “Twitter” and “Facebook Revolution” to capture protests in the Arab World. On the one hand, those terms offensively reduced a vast political movement to a social networking site. On the other, Malcolm Gladwell’s response — that there was protest before social media, therefore social media had no role — was equally unfulfilling.
Neither view captured the way technology has been utilized in this global wave of dissent. We are witnessing political mobilizations across much of the globe, including the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and South America. Riots and “flash mobs” are increasingly making the news. In the United States the emergence of the Occupy movement shows that technology and our global atmosphere of dissent is the effective merging of the on- and offline worlds. We cannot only focus on one and ignore the other.
It is no historical coincidence that the rise of social media will be forever linked with the global spread of mass mobilizations of people in physical space that we are witnessing right now. Social media is not some space separate from the offline, physical world. Instead, social media should be understood as the effective merging of the digital and physical, the on- and offline, atoms and bits. And the consequences of this are erupting around us.
Occupy Wall Street and the subsequent occupation movements around the United States and increasingly the globe might best be called an augmented revolution. By “augmented,” I am referring to a larger conceptual perspective that views our reality as the byproduct of the enmeshing of the on- and offline. This is opposed to the view that the digital and physical are separate spheres, what I have called “digital dualism.” Research has demonstrated that sites like Facebook have everything to do with the offline. Our offline lives drive whom we are Facebook-friends with and what we post about. And what happens on Facebook influences how we experience life when we are not logged in and staring at some glowing screen (e.g., we are being trained to experience the world always as a potential photo, tweet, status update). Facebook augments our offline lives rather than replaces them. And this is why research shows that Facebook users have more offline contacts, are more civically engaged, and so on.