Can we successfully remove ourselves from the network?

Laura’s presentation last week, and our subsequent discussion about networked terrorism pushed me to think about the different ways in which groups have tried to “break free” from the networks that have created urban infrastructures. For decades, individuals and groups have attempt to remove themselves from urban societies, in order to lead self-sustained off the grid lives. Here it is important to consider Graham’s notion of network terrorism, and the different actors that have the potential to be involved. In the same sense that their are terrorists themselves who seek to explode technology, their are also individuals actively seeking to remove themselves from these power constrains.

It is very easy to generalize societies as a whole, neglecting to consider those individuals  who actively attempt to either use this fear to educate, or use this fear to control. One particular example that came to mind was the Jonestown massacre that occurred in 1978. Jim Jones created The People’s Temple through the exploitation of social fears surrounding technology and the unknown. Of course, I don’t want to over simplify this situation, as religion and other factors played substantial roles, but his presentation of a self-sustain community attracted a large number of followers.

In a way, especially in a pre-9/11 society, the networks that control social infrastructures were very much black boxed. Jones was able to use this fear of the unknown to attract followers and to eventually move his sect to a remote spot in South America. Jones preached against the corruption that is society, and his solution, “Jonestown” was situated as the perfect escape. However, as we all know Jonestown failed, and that failure lead to a historical mass suicide.

The tragedy that was Jonestown really puts into perspective the role that networks play and the power that they have. Jones and his followers spent so much time vilifying technology and urban growth, that they neglected to consider further what life would be like without it. Again, Jonestown is a very specific example, but there are far less extreme examples of “off-the-griders” failing to successfully disconnect themselves from urban infrastructures at large.

As we constantly return to in this class, networks always seem to present us two ends to an extreme spectrum, when the answer really lies somewhere in the middle. It is unrealistic for large groups of individuals to disconnect themselves from the networks that are likely to be targeted in any practical way. Yes there are individuals who are successful, but that does not make it a sustainable solution. Networks are afforded power when they are black boxed, making them a massive target. Of course I offer no absolute solution, but this post was meant to explore the power that education plays into Graham’s concept.


If you want to learn more about The Jonestown Massacre:

 Huffington Post: The Jonestown Massacre



1 Comment

  1. I think you bring up a really interesting point about how societal infrastructure has become so part of our reality, that going “off the grid” can highlight our dependence on infrastructure and what it does provide to us, and what it enables us to do.

    This further emphasizes the powerful role of infrastructure and its enabling capabilities of affording what people can and cannot do.

    I think that your connection to Jonestown was on point!


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