No visible On/Off switch for citizens
by Ken Smith Sunday, June 3, 2018
This paragraph at the end of a brief blog post by Dave Winer reminds me of an information problem in an unhealthy society. The blog post shares a story about climate change and power, but the final paragraph takes place on the subway.

I have told this story myself, once at full volume in a crowded NYC subway car (inadvertently, I tend to speak loudly) and was rewarded with agreement from fellow subway riders. (Scripting News, 5/23/18

Reading Vaclac Havel, not sure what essay, I gathered the sense a progression that citizens in a tyranny might experience. Feeling like he or she is the only one who wants to resist the powers that be, feeling that only the few in the circle of friends understand how dangerous the government is, feeling that there are distant clusters of people who get it but they are cut off from each other. 

Later, lots of people knowing the government is bogus but not knowing that most people know, eventually feeling that maybe lots of people do see through the power structure's lies but not sure there is a way to assemble and act, finally realizing that most everybody knows the power structure is brutal and phone and looking around for ways to gather forces, then making public the shared understanding that the government is brutal and bogus, so that now everybody knows and everybody knows that everybody knows. And now being relatively free of uncertainty and able to act. Maybe not free of fear, but free of uncertainty about the shared understanding.

If Havel was right, then part of the problem is an information problem. What kind of civic practices, publishing practices, information practices, help citizens move through that progression from isolation to shared knowledge and confidence? At certain stages, the knowledge and good will are there but difficult to tap. No visible On/Off switch.

Like that moment on the subway car that Dave Winer describes. There was a huge latent shared understanding that was only accidentally revealed.

And there is probably a huge latent potential for activism, too, with no visible On/Off switch that we can throw when we need to.