The Slacker Effect: Resistance at a Time of Blogs, Dogtags, and Green Avatars

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In an interview for Inquirer.net Blogs, I mentioned that blog entries do not change the world.  The most that I can do as a blogger is to frame the perspective of at least half a dozen people about an issue.  Like I said, blogging is a channel for resistance; it is not the be-all-end-all of social change in “the age of information.”  You still have to go to rallies if necessary.

A Snopes.com article on “slacktivism” describes the phenomenon in blunt terms: it’s the kind of feel-good remedy to come to society’s rescue, or to participate in a cause, without having to get to the down-and-dirty work of going out to the streets, or taking a more active role in social change.  “Slacktivism” is often caricatured in things like product boycotts, Singles Awareness Day, and Earth Hour, but it also includes blogging, signing online petitions, and joining e-groups.

A week ago, AkoMismo.com distributed – OK, sold – a bunch of nifty black-and-red dog tags over at The Fort.  For P40, you get a nifty black-and-red dogtag that represents pledges and commitments made at the wall of commitments at the oft-criticized and oft-praised website.  My friends complained of the number of “orcs” hanging around Bonifacio High Street looking for the next wave of fashion, and I see quite a number of the tags everywhere.  Politics somewhat mixes with a fashion trend, but not everyone’s buying into it.  Take Boy Batikos, for example:

Shempre bagong-bago e kaya benta sa masa. At mukha kang cool pag suot mo ito, dahil red at black. At pag suot mo ren ito, makabayan ka. Pero hanggang dun na lang yun. Yung iba nga wala naman talagang panata eh. Hindi alam kung ano ba ibig sabihin nitong Ako Mismo. Basta nabalitaan lang na may cool na dog tag na uso ngayon kaya nagpabili na ren sa mga kakilala nila. Sus.

I’m a live-and-let-live kind of guy: if it takes a bunch of dog tags for an organization to effect a socio-civic and political consciousness among the youth, and the youth buy into it, then it must make sense.  The effort does not have to be applauded, it just has to make sense.  Never mind that it’s P40, you probably don’t have a clue of what AkoMismo.com is, and you have no idea what those dog tags represent and where’s the money going to.  It’s just there.

Or green avatars in Twitter, for example.  Beyond #IranElection hashtags, many people have turned their Twitter avatars green to show support for democracy and freedom in Iran.  Yet it begs the question: does it accomplish anything?  Of course it does: it informs the public, it stands in solidarity with a cause of democracy for Iran, but it really doesn’t free the place, does it?  We’re looking for something absolute, concrete, and tangible that a cause like Iran is so remote from us, so irrelevant, and we really can’t do anything about it except call the attention of #cnnfail.  Never mind that the overwhelming support of the Twitter community for democracy in Iran may now be treated as the issue, that the cause of democracy in Iran may be part of that long resumé of the importance of new media and the digital democracy.  Or that democracy in Iran may be thought of as only possible because of the Twitter community.

I don’t want to get started on blogging, though: the stuff of blogtroversy has gone beyond the Ian Uy’s and Tracy Borres’s of the world, and have sort of made headlines and spotlights.  Familiar territory for me, at least: impeachment complaints, the BJE MOA-AD, Brian Gorell’s complaint, and lately, the movement against Con-Ass.  So much so that many people – bloggers included – now consider the Net as “the next battleground.”  Yet that begs the question: in the grand scheme of things, how much do these efforts really matter?

What do these things accomplish?

I’m not going to be contrarian: I think I’ve done way too many things in my life as a dissenting, destabilizing blogger to not be in that position anymore.  However, it is important to be critical.  These days, action is instant: websites, images, dog tags, applications are many and fast.  We expect the same thing for the effect of the cause: many, and fast.  So much so that the hard work and elbow grease needed for social change to happen is ignored.  You no longer have to rally when there’s a “No to Con-Ass” banner on your blog, and you don’t have to fulfill your basic commitment as a citizen because that many-and-fast thing starts and ends with a pledge at AkoMismo.  Rather than technology becoming an instrument of resistance, technology becomes resistance.  For many of us, it begins and ends with using the technology, going through the motions of a blog entry or a graphics change, and everything falls into place.

More than that, we think of instant, tangible, quantifiable results for every little or big thing that we do.  To use a cliché, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t advocate slacktivism, I don’t promote it, and I don’t practice it. I go to the streets when needed, and I’ve seen my own fair share of police officers and riot guards aside from being a bystander. I’ve been there, and I continue to be there when the opportunity presents itself. It’s not the first time, though, that I’ve encountered the “slacktivist” pejorative thrown at me directly or indirectly.

The most a blog can do is to act as a frame for a perspective, and to inform its readers about issues. There will come a time that a blog entry will probably change the world, but that time is not now. At the most, bloggers are doing a very good job in informing people and being channels for the opinions of ordinary people. However, that comes with the warning that if all you ever do is to work within that very artificial limit, do not expect the change to happen the way you expect them to.

While I’m very idealistic about a lot of things, I am very jaded when it comes to blogging. Like opinion columns in newspapers, blogs provide a perspective to an issue. The slacktivist, however, would say that it is the way of the future; that the “Information Age” will lead to the Internet being the new battleground, or that the future of rallies and social action for social change will take place in forums and chatrooms. While I’m not disagreeing with that possibility, that kind of logic dismisses the fact that we are in actual, physical society. The same goes for hecklers: the “hanggang rally lang kayo” crowd, or the “hanggang blog lang kayo” segment of society, who stand by the wayside and justify their inaction – or refusal to participate – as observation.

I think the most important lesson to all of this is that we should always remember that most of our obligations and duties as citizens are offline.  Out there, the many-and-the-fast does not exist, and we always need to commit ourselves to the elbow grease and the hard work of changing society for the better.  That the commitment to blog, or to have a dogtag, or to have a green avatar should always be manifested offline.  The two simplest things you can do (which are apparently no longer simple) are to pay your taxes, and to express your dissent.

Big things come in small packages, but you always get what you put in. Blogs and online petitions are tools, but you cannot build a house just by using a hammer. Like many things about activism, blogging is just one of the many tools you can use to effect change. Using just one tool to build a house, though – or destroy it, whichever comes first – is but the folly only fools can make.

Original posted 4:24 PM, this is a very heavy rewrite.  – Marocharim

4 comments on “The Slacker Effect: Resistance at a Time of Blogs, Dogtags, and Green Avatars”

  1. Reply

    slacktivism is clearly a poor substitute to actually doing something in the real world. but then again does participating in rallies really have more value than blogging about issues? i think they rank just the same. both are essentially just about making noise. i can see though how blogging and other “online” activities can make “real”, “offline” methods of protests less appealing.

    slacktivism is not a good thing but as long as not everyone is infected with it we don’t really have anything to be worried about.

    everyone has a role to play.

    • liz
    • July 17, 2009
    Reply

    the ultimate actions that result to the actual upheaval can and will be traced to one thing: information. in as much as “slacktivism” – as you articulated it aptly here, can be accused to be the comfort zone of the aware but (probably too lazy or would not want to be bothered to get down and dirty) “concerned” section of the society, they do make people be aware of the facts and the what-to-dos. the time between getting informed and getting their butts working may look like the Amazon river as far as `time lapsed` is concerned, but the seed has been sowed. i am being optimistic, maybe.

  2. Reply

    @liz:

    it’s great to be optimistic, but the battleground of real-world problems is still the real world. 🙂

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