Imagined, Virtual, and Resisted Communities
Benedict Anderson’s argument that Nations are purely imagined communities gestated by the rise of print capitalism, and sustained by the boundaries rendered by cartographers is a crucial one in understanding contemporary critical thought, politics, and identity. What we now face is a re-articulation of both the nation and the community.
Technology is always so much more than gadgets and trinkets to amuse and aid our daily lives. New devices always have a social and cultural impact, and with some the weight is tremendous. As Anderson has shown, print capitalism, books and news in a dominant language, altered the way we thought of ourselves. So too did the telephone, and the television. They introduced new modes of communication, new media to inform, educate, commercialise, brainwash, pacify, and titilate.
Social Media is now rewriting our ideas of community, of entertainment, news, and also, some argue, rewiring our brains. This summer Newsweek ran an alarmist story regarding the insanity induced by web-addiction, iPhones, and Facebook. Whilst some of this clearly has legitimate founding, it does also sound a little like people complaining of myopic bookworms, and square eyed TV viewers. All these mediums have their pitfalls. What I am interested in is how are they remaking our ideas about nation, about community, about everyday issues of gender, race, ethnicity, and religion? In the past few months I have been fascinated by the depth of discussion on issues of gender politics, cultural appropriation, international relations, all on social media. Of course there are also lots of kittens and Minecraft out there too.
Today see the continuation of Hong Kong’s year of National angst. Students besiege the Tamar Government offices with a hunger strike calling an end to ‘proposed’ National Education. At the same time a small piece of hi-tech plastic has been released making commuters’ lives much easier. One single travel card for use between Hong Kong and Shenzen. Or in more simple terms one travel card to pay flawlessly for transportation in both Hong Kong and China. This is a huge asset to National integration. Whilst Hong Kong has always been geographically part of China, it’s maps have always left a void at the Northern New Territories. Roads, and railways (that have long existed and connected the two) can now be travelled between the two regions with ever greater ease and increasingly less red tape.
So concurrent with the physical boundaries of Hong Kong becoming ever fainter, there is a rise in an ideological buttress between Hong Kong and China, a fear of change and loss. What is perhaps most worrying to Hong Kong people is the loss of their identity, and it seems whilst a threat is perceived, the Hong Kong identity (which has been very ambiguous and liminal for the bulk of the territory’s history) is starting to become much less faint. Hong Kong’s future is, and has always been China. But it remains to be seen in what form this will find stasis.