Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

[i]La revolución horizontal: El poder de la comunicación en manos de la gente[/i] by Gonzalo Alonso and Alberto Arébalos



New information technologies are constantly redefining the ways in which politicians and businesses are interacting with consumers and voters. The result is a changing paradigm in the fundamental order of societies—a fact welcomed by many but greeted with apprehension by others.

La revolución horizontal: El poder de la comunicación en manos de la gente (The Horizontal Revolution: The Power of Communication in the Hands of the People) is perhaps the most refreshing book to come out of Latin America recently that examines the evolution of communication and the Internet. As a politician who has used social media to wage a dark-horse political campaign, I can attest that the young authors accurately portray how technology—including Twitter, Facebook, and similar social networking—has reshaped the way in which candidates reach out to their base and bring others into their political circle.

The authors add a real-life, practical dimension to the book that is often missing from such larger macro studies. Alberto Arébalos is the director of communications and public affairs of Google in Latin America, and Gonzalo Alonso is the vice president of operations at Globant and was previously Google’s general director for Latin America.

The authors approach complicated subjects with philosophical reflections on how people perceive and communicate their options, tastes and consumption. They describe the evolution of certain instruments or tools in different industries, such as music or literature, but more specifically they deal with the new type of human formed by these new tools. Technology has distorted the perception of being; today, peoples’ sense of the here and now can be played out repeatedly and simultaneously online. Although this book is limited to the phenomenon of new technologies, it also raises questions about fundamental philosophical tenets, both about the nature of man and the organization of society and the economy.

The authors prove with theoretical and empirical evidence that information technology is sparking a “horizontal revolution.” In doing so, they also subscribe to a principle that is long overdue for a debate with traditional liberal thinkers. As Adam Smith said, freedom and self-interest produce order, not chaos. But what happens—as discussed in La revolución horizontal—when people want different things at different times? Or, with the Internet, when everyone wants the same thing at the same time? This raises fundamental questions of social order and the nature of human interaction.

Some argue that the term “all” cannot include everyone. They consider poverty to be a structural problem and believe it is senseless to seek precise answers to these questions. I believe this feeling perpetuates the status quo and turns a blind eye to the poor who merely sit and watch as the country grows and leaves them empty handed.

Without getting bogged down in a formal analysis, the book picks up on this idea in an original way and encourages the reader to think about whether these premises are correct. It also describes the Internet as a vehicle that allows something new to take place: simultaneous and repeated communication without limits. This gives freedom a new meaning, independent of free will.

This freedom can also mean that the reputation of a person or good can change instantaneously. For example, one compelling chapter examines how Twitter now means that the box office success of a multimillion dollar movie can be determined even before an audience leaves the theater on opening night.

The Internet is a network, not a way of life. And these young authors accurately observe that new technology has now become essential to a normal life today. But the book also questions how technology has changed our way of connecting with each other. La revolución horizontal, while offering great insight into contemporary philosophy, sociology and class politics, also holds out the hope of improving policymaking.

The only shortcoming of this book is its failure to explore how the Internet´s “horizontal revolution” has managed to exclude an important sector of the population: senior citizens. It would be interesting to explore how new technology can play a role in connecting the older generation with the rest of the information technology community. For instance, digital TV offers the elderly an interactive tool for which they only need a remote control instead of a mouse.

As the authors note, today’s information technologies “for the first time will leave more power in the hands of people.” It will certainly dictate how people interact for the foreseeable future. To understand how this has happened, and its meaning, I recommend that experts and novices alike read this book.

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
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