Photo by James Aviaz
It is modern life's great irony that, in a world that is better connected than ever before, we have become more incapable of that central pillar of communication: conversation. If I want to talk to a co-worker or a housemate, I don't need to engage them in oral dialogue, I can simply transmit to them digitally. Such conditions are not conducive to acerbic debate or witty repartee; rather, they breed a culture of inanity, anonymity and unaccountability. Just look at the comments section of YouTube to get a flavour of what I'm referring to. It is like watching a horde of racist, sexist toddlers who have escaped the village crèche. It is a crime against humanity and, on a more personal note, it is a crime against English grammar.
There is an omblomovian* inertia that has infected every household in the Western world. Indeed, when I am afforded a moment of objective contemplation such as this, I realise that I too am guilty of neglecting our sacred duty to converse intelligently. The great pioneers of communication - from Alexander Graham Bell to John Logie Baird - would be appalled by today's primitive confabulations.
Communicating a message, particularly in a group, can be much more meaningful than we have allowed it to become. Let us consider, for a moment, the great social movements of history such as Chartism, the American Civil Rights Movement, or even Gandhi's Salt March. What made these movements so compelling was that every member, however apparently insignificant, was made to feel in some way effective. In short, whether one was contributing their signature to the Chartist petition, or joining Mahatma on his march to Dandi, they believed that their involvement - their voice - was somehow necessary.
I contend that the main obstacle facing politicised movements in today's world of meretricious communication, is that the issues - and I refer in particular to those concerning climate change - have become too abstract, too remote and seemingly insurmountable. Why bother changing the world when it is easier to tweet about Mylie Cyrus' derrière?
It is this kind of apathetic powerlessness that permeates the UK during every national election. 40% of the electorate in the UK cannot even be bothered to cross their thresholds in order to visit the local ballot station and place their vote. The sad truth of the matter is that many people feel that their vote is utterly meaningless.
We need to reassert our individual voices in two primary ways. Firstly, we must give credence to our opinions and beliefs by communicating in a manner that is worthy of a species that has spawned 7,000 languages and 40,000 dialects. We don't have to succumb to profanities, poor grammar and the gratuitous use of the emoticon. Secondly, we can work to ensure that our views are not lost in the bottomless ocean of content by uniting and forming robust communities.
So, what's the answer? Well, we can begin by taking our cue from activist websites such as Avaaz, 38 Degrees and Move On. These organisations bring hundreds of thousands of people together in support of good causes. There's still a tremendous amount of work to be done, but it's a start and, frankly, there's already enough muscle in these groups to start a revolution.
At this juncture, I'm reminded of Arlo Guthrie's searing indictment against the Vietnam draft, in which he encouraged people to sing 'Alice's Restaurant Massacree' if they wanted to escape conscription:
"You know, if one person, just one person [sings] it they may think he's really sick and they won't take him. And if two people... in harmony [sing it], they may think they're both faggots and they won't take either of them...And can you imagine fifty people a day walking in and singin' a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out? And friends, they may think it's a movement."
Let's start communicating properly again.
Let's start uniting together.
Let's start a movement...
*look it up
As originally published in NYC zine Everything is Fucked, Everything is OK: Issue Three.