The world is changing. Can you see it yet? Since 2008, there has been a dramatic explosion of visual imagery. At the same time, the world has changed in four key ways–and that’s not counting the financial crisis. The two patterns are closely related. We take pictures to understand the change that has happened. And then we use them to make social change.
Imagery is everywhere: one trillion photos were taken in 2014. 700 million SnapChat photos are posted every day. Three hundred hours of YouTube video are uploaded every minute. To put this in perspective: in 2012, there were “only” 250 billion photos taken, so the number has quadrupled in three years. Every two minutes, US residents alone take more photographs than were taken throughout the 19th century.
The world is changing: since 2008, most people live in cities for the first time. By 2050, that figure is expected to rise to 66%. Two out of every three people will live in cities that take up about 4% of the world’s surface. Since 2011, most people are aged under thirty. Since 2014, roughly half the world’s population has access to the Internet. And in 2014, the result of all this networked urbanization was that CO2 passed 400 parts per million for the first time in millions of years.
The result is change. Changed visual formats, like the now infamous “selfie,” first heard of in 2012, word of the year in 2013, cliché in 2014 but ubiquitous. Add to that Vines, being used to promote micro-show business careers and as citizen journalism. Instagrams and Snapchats are redefining communication on a daily basis.
The young, urban networked majority is also demanding social change from Brazil to Ireland, Spain and Scotland. In Brazil, 62% of people are under thirty. 85% live in cities. And it is the fifth largest cell phone market in the world. All that added up to massive social protests in 2013 that continue today. The situation is exacerbated by the dramatic drought that is leaving Sao Paulo, one of the new global mega-cities with a population in excess of 20 million, on the verge of running out of water.
While the usual commentators decried the social movements of 2011 as not creating electoral change, they have failed to point out that it is happening now. From Podemos in Spain, with direct connections to the 15-M social movement, to the electoral earthquakes in Alberta, Canada, and Scotland, voting is now a form of direct action. Mhairi Black (above) aged 20, defeated the Labour shadow Foreign Secretary in Scotland. Her victory speech called with great clarity for free higher education, free public health care and an end to austerity. On a 75% turnout, she won over 50% of the vote. That’s the new majority in action. She dismissed “gotcha” tabloid reports of drunk tweeting as something everybody does.
In Spain, the three largest cities–Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia–voted for the new radical groups. Spain may be broke but it has over 40 million cell phone users, about half of whom have smart phones. 92% of Scots have mobiles and 44% use them to access the Internet. Scottish cities like Glasgow first voted “yes” in the referendum and then systematically targeted MPs from established England-based parties.
And then there was Ireland, conservative and damaged beyond recognition in the financial crisis. Asked to vote on same-sex marriage, the country not only passed it but did so with a majority of 62%. The vote was given impetus by BeLonG To, the Irish youth LGBT organization.The once-absolute authority of the Catholic church has disappeared in the wake of the abuse scandal. As columnist Fintan O’Toole put it in The Irish Times (no one’s idea of a radical newspaper)
the LGBT community has given all of Irish democracy one of its greatest days. It has given our battered republic a new sense of engagement, a new confidence, an expanded sense of possibility.
It has shown all of us that the unthinkable is perfectly attainable.
The impossible is once again our demand.