In the book Networked, Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman explore the role digital technology has played in shaping social dynamics and modes of self-expression. The first third of the book examines a transition in society, beginning with the industrial revolution, that resulted in a shift from groups of people cemented in geographically static communities to networks of people with a decreasing reliance on proximity. As people began moving to cities, driving in cars, traveling by airplane for work-related events, and going away to college, relationships could be formed far away from the communities in which people grew up, and people can stay in touch by many forms of communication that had not existed before. People’s circles of friends, families, and acquaintances are wider than ever before, especially with the advent of internet communications. Networks rely on individuals who are connected in varying degrees to different combinations of people. Social networks like Facebook exemplify this phenomenon, as do professional networking sites like LinkedIn and websites shaped around common interests. From the impact digital technology has on driving to how events are planned to advertising methods to online fundraisers, there is no doubt that networks are nothing short of revolutionary.
But social networks are more than just a game-changing tech innovation– they have also allowed citizens of oppressed nations to organize and protest in revolutionary ways. Back in 2009, Iranians planned their rebellion using the particularly useful medium of twitter. In 2011, Egyptians were helped by people around the world when the government tried to shut down the internet. Because the internet allows individuals to reach an enormous audience, the power of individuals to organize around a cause and stand against oppressive powers is unprecedented. The internet allows for both anonymity and publicity, a valuable combination when it comes to dodging secret police while plotting social change. The internet is laying the groundwork for democratic change, and that is a wonder to behold.