Digital technologies are changing politics as we know it, but not because of some inherent or immutable characteristic that stands apart from the world in which they were created. Instead, these technologies have helped an underlying condition, namely growing discontent at marketisation – the privatising of ever more goods, services and social interactions, and the ideologies that justify that process – to find meaningful expression in the formal political arena. The result has been successive electoral shockwaves that have shattered long-held certainties and splintered the political spectrum.
Ironically, digital technologies are capable of playing this role precisely because in reality their own development and logic owes so much to market forces. Behind the advertising copy, Apple, Amazon and the other tech giants share far more with the Enclosure Acts of the Tudor period than they do with the common land those acts so violently eroded. Facebook, Twitter and co are simultaneously creatures of a neoliberal orthodoxy and engines of its crisis. But contained within this irony is a kernel of hope: not only that such technologies are not necessarily antithetical to the sort of politics we should be fighting for, but also that they could yet play a vital role in rejuvenating them.