Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

The Year Ahead: Next, the Pessimists

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, January 6 2012

Occupy Oakland, Nov. 2011. Photo: Clay@SU/Flickr

Yesterday we heard from the optimists, the people who see the network-powered tumult of 2011 as the harbinger of more positive social changes to come this year. Today, we have the responses of a smaller but equally provocative group, the pessimists. We asked them the following question: "If 2011 was a year of tumult fueled, in part, by our growing ability to network, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the year ahead--and why?" and their answers range from gloomy to downright apocalyptic.

What's interesting about these responses is how they take the same events--economic dislocation, the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the presidential election--and project losses, rather than gains, for democracy and better government. Also, it's noteworthy that several of our most optimistic respondents from yesterday were on the political right, while nearly all of our (smaller) group of pessimists would place themselves on the political left. Is the grass greener when you're on the outside looking in? Herewith, the opinions of David Callahan, Farai Chideya, Dave Karpf, Matt Stoller and Michael Turk.


David Callahan, Senior Fellow, Demos
I'm pessimistic about the year ahead. Abroad, I fear an ongoing economic crisis in Europe and growing economic problems in China as well. I also fear that some of the democratic gains from the Arab Spring will be lost -- as we are seeing already in Egypt. At home, I fear that the political environment will turn even more ugly amid ongoing economic stagnation, Republicans obstinacy on fiscal policy, and a money-saturated presidential election more likely to be dominated by negative campaigning than serious ideas.

Farai Chideya, Broadcaster and blogger,
"Our growing ability to network" is a reality for some and not for others. I've spent a lot of my career covering the most vulnerable people in America -- people who have lost their jobs and homes; people who have had to cut back not just on frivolities but on the basics. They are not always networked into our society, or have to rely on overcrowded library computers and not-so-smart phones as their main ways of accessing networks.

Of course, human networks are also imperiled. Some people move so often to find work or because they've lost work that they also lose meaningful community ties.

All that said: I believe we have 2-3 years of intense pain ahead as we adjust our expectations to reality. Then, my hope is just the way people recalibrated and got tougher during the Great Depression, we will after the Great Recession as well. It's my hope that those with greater access to networks will reach out to those with less.

Dave Karpf, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University and author of the soon-to-be-published book The MoveOn Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy
I am mostly pessimistic. At least in America, 2012 will be a year consumed by attention to the Presidential race. It will feature both the "organized minorities" and "disorganized majorities" that Andrew Rasiej often speaks about. But it will also feature a tidal wave of outside money, much of it aimed at voter disenfranchisement and disinformation campaigns.

In the 2008 election, the role of communications technology inspired many of us. In 2012, I fear that role will be muted by the ever-more-expansive power of the wealthy in an electoral system fundamentally resistant to change. Regardless of which party wins the White House, I expect 2012 to be an exhausting and dispiriting year.

Matt Stoller, The Roosevelt Institute
While there has been a lot of focus on the Occupy movement, the reality of 2011 is that it was a year in which the oligarchs grew in strength and power and the public lost out. Italy, Greece, Spain, and now Hungary are controlled by increasingly authoritarian regimes. Egypt isn't doing particularly well. And austerity and its associated end of democracy is heading straight for the US, perhaps in 2012, perhaps later.

The basic contradictions in the global order still exist - there is no way to balance widespread global prosperity with elite control. So one of the two has to go. One of my mentors always says, if you want a happy ending, get a Disney movie. As for the networking bit, they could just end up breaking the internet and then getting the world involved in a massive suicidal global war again. But if that doesn't happen, at least we have catastrophic climate change to look forward to.

I am usually considered a pessimist because I predict that bad things will happen. For instance, I thought that Barack Obama would be a bad President based on his track record of making bad decisions. Wow, you're such a pessimist, I was told. Then when I look back on my writing, it nearly always turns out I was *too optimistic*. So I don't like the term "pessimistic" or "optimistic".

Happy New Year.

Michael Turk, Partner || CRAFT | Media/Digital
I'm psyched; super optimistic. With the end of the world less than a year away - according to the Mayans, at least - we'll have super fast access to live tweeting and Facebook status updates detailing the collapse of global society. That is, until the networks fail and leave us in the dark. Who wouldn't be excited about that?

News Briefs

RSS Feed thursday >

NYC Open Data Advocates Focus on Quality And Value Over Quantity

The New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications plans to publish more than double the amount of datasets this year than it published to the portal last year, new Commissioner Anne Roest wrote last week in an annual report mandated by the city's open data law, with 135 datasets scheduled to be released this year, and almost 100 more to come in 2015. But as preparations are underway for City Council open data oversight hearings in the fall, what matters more to advocates than the absolute number of the datasets is their quality. GO

Civic Tech and Engagement: Announcing a New Series on What Makes it "Thick"

Announcing a new series of feature articles that we will be publishing over the next several months, thanks to the support of the Rita Allen Foundation. Our focus is on digitally-enabled civic engagement, and in particular, how and under what conditions "thick" digital civic engagement occurs. What we're after is answers to this question: When does a tech tool or platform enable actual people to make ongoing and significant contributions to each other, to a place or cause, at a scale that produces demonstrable change? GO

monday >

Tweets2Rue Helps Homeless to Help Themselves Through Twitter

While most solutions to homelessness focus on addressing physical needs -- a roof over the head and food to eat -- one initiative in France known as Tweets2Rue knows that for the homeless, a house is still not a home, so to speak: the homeless are often entrenched in a viscous cycle of social isolation that keeps them invisible and powerless. GO

Oakland's Sudo Mesh Looks to Counter Censorship and Digital Divide With a Mesh Network

In Oakland, a city with deep roots in radical activism and a growing tech scene at odds with the hyper-capital-driven Silicon Valley, those at the Sudo Room hackerspace believe that the solution to a wide range of problems, from censorship to the digital divide, is a mesh net, a type of decentralized network that is resilient to censorship and disruption and can also bring connectivity to poor communities.