It was 1895 when Gustav Le Bon, in the famous book called The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind claimed: “The age we are about to enter will in truth be the Era Of Crowds”.
Le Bon saw the increase of the power of masses and the weakness of the Parliaments representatives that become only stooges. According to the thinker, the traditional structure of power and the hierarchy related to it were falling apart. For him, the ascent of the masses represented the destruction of the civilisation that the latter was not able to realize.
Nowadays, we have another break point that the philosopher Byung-Chul Han has pointed out in an essential book called In the Swarm: Digital Perspective (2017). In this essay, he argues that there is a new subject who has taken the place of masses:
Yet again, a formation comprising “the many” is beleaguering the standing balance of power and government. The new mass is the digital swarm.
The features of the swarm differ radically from the crowd.
For instance, “the digital swarm comprises isolated individuals” with their own profile and identity. For this reason, the digital swarm is unable to “develop a we“. In contrast, a mass has a common spirit and soul and individuals are melting into a new unit because the identity is common. Moreover, “the swarm demonstrates no internal coherence” because does not speak with a voice. The shitstorm lacks a voice, too. Accordingly, it is perceived as noise“.
After depicting the new formation, the issue becomes fashionable since we are touching the foundation of the political action.
How we can represent our interests as citizens if we could not develop a we anymore? Han is very clear on it when he depicts the features of Homo digitalis.
The world of Homo digitalis has no real space to assemble such as sports arenas and amphitheatres that represented the typical topology of the world’s masses. In fact, homo digitalis does not assemble, “they lack the interiority of assembly that would bring forth a we. They form a gathering without assembly, a crowd without interiority, without a soul or spirit. Above all, they are isolated, scattered hikikomori sitting alone in front of the screen”.
Moreover, the hallmark of their collective patterns of movement is volatility and instability. In contrast, a classic mass such as workers is not volatile but voluntary. “Organized labour”, write Han, “is not a matter of fleeting patterns; it consists of enduring formations. With a single spirit, unified by an ideology, it marches in one direction”. Different is for the digital swarm: “they do not march” and because of their fleeting nature they are not capable of developing political energy.
This word does not seem to give space for a renewed political action but at the same time, they call as for a deep reflection. For example, it is interesting to wonder: if we are unable to develop a we which were the aim of movements such as #Metoo #BlackLivesMatter #Occupy and many others?
Certainly, they played a huge role in raising global awareness of the specifical issues but the question remains: it is enough to call this a political action?