What is in a tweet? Certainly, we see twitter elements featured on ads in subways and bus shelters, linking our digital and material worlds as if the hashtag symbol itself were a QR code. These hashtags and handles are symbols referencing meanings associated with the digital environment of twitter, whose content is itself comprised of references to the events of our physical world. This interconnectivity between different environments is only increasing as we move into a generation of smart electronics and Google Glass. As we witness this process of singularity occurring before our eyes, we must ask ourselves the question: What is the impact of these technologies on our social world? What I want to explore in particular is how these social networks impact the mobilization and radicalization processes of social movements, and how they can use these tools to build the political power needed to work toward either moderate reform or substantial systemic change in American politics.
As this exploration into the new social movements of the digital age begins, one method for ascertaining the role of social media would be to study current movements against the backdrop of similar mobilizations working toward comparable change in the pre-digital era. How do the protests, rallies, and sit-ins of today differ from past struggles for productive change? What portion of this difference can be attributed to communication via social media? For example, what distinguishes the current fight for a $15 per hour minimum wage from past movements of poor, disenfranchised workers in the United States?