Mother Jones: What was the evolution of the flash mob?
Bill Wasik: Before there was anything called flash mobs, there were the protests in the Philippines where the participants used text messaging to coordinate. That preceded flash mobs. There are some semantic issues with what exactly flash mobs are. The way that I conceived of them, they were just 10 minutes or less and they were completely absurd. When people ask me “What do you think the political potential of flash mobs to be?” I say, “I don’t really think that there is one.” That said, using cell phones to coordinate protests has allowed for decentralization, for people to organize.
Whenever I hear talk about using flash mobs for political purposes, my first thought is that that person doesn’t really know what they’re talking about. The people who understand the technology and the generation that they’re talking about know that flash mobs were a little absurdist blip in a whole universe of social networking technologies or phenomena that do have the power to be very revolutionary. You could use flash mob as a metaphor for some of the ways in which the netroots will leverage the power of all of this collaborative energy and all of these people in remote locations and have them come together on a single project. A flash mob is an interesting metaphor and insofar as it’s being used as a metaphor I have no problem with that.
MJ: What do you think about the idea that technology is changing the way we do politics?
BW: A lot of techno-utopian types —the kind of people who would crow about Politics 2.0-type stuff —they have a hammer, but they don’t really know what their nail is. To me, the innovation of the netroots really has nothing to do with the Internet and has everything to do with the way they’re forging an aggressive vision of liberal politics that is rightly confrontational on the war and on economic issues. I think that, yeah, there’s a hammer and it’s called social networking. It’s the way in which the Internet allows people to come together in a virtual way. But it’s a platform that anybody can use, and the question is, what are we going to use it for? That brings us right back to Politics 1.0. My feeling about a lot of this stuff is, yeah, it’s cool, but it’s a sideshow. It’s not the main show.