From the beginning, the core of the Occupy movement has been the same distributed network of small protest groups that have together for a decade now to disrupt global summits and party conventions. Whether or not they see technology as their primary means of organizing, technology is utterly crucial in the way their whole model works — keeping connected without the benefit (or detriment, as the case may be) of a central authority.
As Shirky puts it, digital networks “do not allow otherwise uncommitted groups to take effective political action. They do, however, allow committed groups to play by new rules.”
To this assessment, I’d add something else: They create new rules for how committed people get and stay connected with one another, and how those connections get classified, even in their own minds. After all, it’s not hard to imagine that, when faced with a questionnaire asking to list their closest friends or associates, these activists would list one another, rather than their family or the people they drink with in their own hometowns.
Activists may need “strong ties” to risk their lives in the streets, but it’s clear those ties can stretch across continents, and can consist entirely of bits — right up until the moment when they come together.