In Jodi Dean’s book Democracy and other neoliberal fantasies: communicative capitalism & left politics, she discusses technology and the promises of Communicative Capitalism. Often, the debate surrounding the internet focuses on whether the internet is a good or bad public sphere. However, Jodi Dean does not focus on that question. She questions whose interests are being served and who is gaining from the perception of the internet as a public sphere.
The internet was born through a mix of the entrepreneurial zeal of the yuppies and the free spirit of the hippies. When the internet was born, people viewed it as a platform that would have amazing emancipatory powers. This vision of the internet was embraced by everyone and the internet turned into a space to recreate yourself or express yourself. And that was working, until the internet became more about profit than about content.
According to Jodi Dean, Communicative Capitalism is the illusion of democratic participation through opinion sharing on the internet, which in reality amounts to profit for corporations controlling the internet platforms. Communicative capitalism creates an illusion that the internet will liberate the individuals and makes people feel part of the democratic system. But in the end their opinions end up becoming only a drop in the ocean of the millions of opinions shared on the internet. Therefore, according to Jodi Dean, expressing opinions of social platforms is a trap that serves communicative capitalism as an ideology, and does little to no good in the democratic process.
When referring to Refugees Welcome a clear counter-tendency is viewed, as the organization does not limit itself to online activism but also has a strong tangible presence on the field by granting refugees a home. Therefore, Refugees Welcome does utilize the internet to gain visibility, and in this case it can be considered a blessing, because without the internet, this organization would probably not be able to reach the number of people it does. The internet gives them visibility and enables people who don’t know about the organization to learn more about it and participate in their goal. Without the internet, Refugees Welcome probably wouldn’t have has the same impact and the ability to expand to so many different countries around the world. However, the movement does not depend on the internet, it relies on the internet to reach out to people, but the real action which changes people’s lives does not happen on the internet. When people take in refugees in their own homes, the internet only acts as a mediator.
This is even more evident in the case of Sanna, a refugee from Gambia who because of the new laws in Italy (Matteo Salvini’s Decreto Sicurezza) was running the risk of living on the streets. However, through the organization, Sanna found a family (Michela and Andrea) in Florence who will allow him to continue his studies to become a tailor. This example shows how the organization is clearly not limited to online action and shows how sharing your opinions on the internet is not enough to make a change. The organization makes tangible efforts to help refugees. Therefore, the refugees welcome organization manages to optimally combine online activism with real-life activism.
Photo by: Miguel Discart (Flickr)