Rage in the Age of Engagement

I write and tweet @DrDigipol about the intersection of politics and the digital. These days, digital touches everything. I suppose I could write about anything, then, but I tend to write about things political (broadly defined to include policy and news media, of course). But I suppose I will stray at times. Don’t get angry with me.


For some, anger turns to rage when unanswered. Pent up anger becomes a fire raging in us. What angers you? What makes your insides burn in rage?

And how do you express your rage? Punching a wall? Rioting in London? Demonstrating in Tahrir Square? Occupying Wall Street? Yelling at your Representative at a townhall? Voting? (God forbid, voting.)

Where once we had just the physical world in which to outwardly express our rage, now we have the virtual world, the ether, the electronosphere, cyberspace, digital networks (just showing off how long I have been thinking about this…. As McLuhan says, “projecting our consciousness into the electronosphere....”), as well.

What does finding people all over the world, and maybe even next door, on Facebook, Twitter or other social network, who share our rage do to it? Is it dampened? Enflamed? Or does it become an expression of self-organizing political power?

This is the question everyone is asking about the 99 Movement’s Occupy Wall Street protest. As it spreads from state to state, from city to city, from Wall Street to Main Street on the wings of Twitter, what will it do to our rage?

Consider the ElShaheeed  Facebook Page. More than 1.6 million page likes now, but even by the time of Arab Spring in Egypt, it had more than a million, of which more than 900 thousand fans RSVP'd to attend a protest in Tahrir Square... all with a deliberately anonymous page administrator, facilitating, not leading, the process. What a way to express rage. Sure, it probably started when a street vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire, in rage, of course, but even that was videoed and distributed on Facebook like it's own wildfire.

We are not seeing virtual expressions of rage replace real world expressions, but the virtual enhances it, softening some edges, extending its reach and influence. These new tools of engagement allow rage from Even the most remote corners of the world to evolve into political protests, movements and, even, regime change.

In Wisconsin, another social networking enhanced movement, the Tea Party, met a resurgent, social network enhanced union movement in a battle over budgets, the right to organize and the direction of the country. And while public support for the Tea Party has grown from 33% to 36% since then, opposition to the Tea Party has doubled from 23% to 46% in the same time. With both sides harnessing new tools of engagement, the result is a public who's opinion is likely more informed about the points of their conflict, if not always the substance.

We are in the early days of a presidential campaign. People are angry. Some feel rage. They are taking to the streets in NYC, DC, Wichita, and Lawrence, KS, and to Facebook and Twitter. And the candidates are there to meet them.

At least they should be there.

Yes, all of them are there, but how many are actually engaging with their supporters, connecting with the networks, communities, and movements that are forming across social media and the country? Voters are looking for candidates to answer their questions and to be part of their conversation about the future of our country. And the conversation is in full swing.

The candidates can help turn anger and rage into movements and solutions by connecting with voters in ways we have not seen outside of village councils. By becoming a part of the national conversation instead of talking to it, they can help restore political efficacy.

I am waiting to see who among them rise to the cause and which movements they meet

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why is 18 the age of adulthood if the brain can take 30 years to mature?

Neuroscience research suggests it might be time to rethink our ideas about when exactly a child becomes an adult.

Mind & Brain
  • Research suggests that most human brains take about 25 years to develop, though these rates can vary among men and women, and among individuals.
  • Although the human brain matures in size during adolescence, important developments within the prefrontal cortex and other regions still take pace well into one's 20s.
  • The findings raise complex ethical questions about the way our criminal justice systems punishes criminals in their late teens and early 20s.
Keep reading Show less

Apparently even NASA is wrong about which planet is closest to Earth

Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.

Strange Maps
  • Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
  • Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
  • Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
Keep reading Show less

Mini-brains attach to spinal cord and twitch muscles

A new method of growing mini-brains produces some startling results.

(Lancaster, et al)
Surprising Science
  • Researchers find a new and inexpensive way to keep organoids growing for a year.
  • Axons from the study's organoids attached themselves to embryonic mouse spinal cord cells.
  • The mini-brains took control of muscles connected to the spinal cords.
Keep reading Show less