Alex of An und für sich has a fascinating narration of the path taken by some data from the UK to Chicago... all of 2.63 seconds, but the work of thousands of hands and hours of contributions. He concludes:
Now, tell me, how are any of these things, from the establishing of servers that allow internet transactions, or more vitally to the community practices that facilitate these examples of open source software, more often than not divorced from any profit motive, not ‘concrete’ practices of work in the same way that some kind of hand waving ‘localism’? Are they not at least as interesting and incredible versions of human interaction as running a back to the land farm?This is a great critique along the same lines that Daniel made a while back concerning agriculture and technology. Primitivism and localism is all well and good, but we should be careful not to ignore the danger of falling into an aesthetic blind spot of embracing what looks old-fashioned and earthy just because it's old-fashioned and earthy. Communitarian sensibilities may rightly find a problem in the lack of face-to-face communication, but alongside this concern they should also register appreciation for the sorts of community and collaboration that technologies do afford. And while I'm no expert, it is likely also the case that organic, local, and natural food production of the sort that is gaining in popularity amongst non-farming consumers is able to operate on a smaller, more intimate and sustainable scale because of rather than in spite of technologies of great complexity.
An example of this that I appreciated, since I work with books a lot, is the Crumpled Press, a small press started by some college graduates that focuses on hand-binding quality material on a small scale. In an interview, however, they were quite willing to recognize that this turn to localism and craft does not signal some primitivist opposition to technological development- “The standard line is that digitization kills books,” says Bick. “I think it’s more accurate to say there’s a symbiosis. The Internet generates most of our sales. We use digital technology like laser printing to produce our books.”
I enjoy reading the localist stuff... the calls for returns to a golden age and the objections to modernization, professionalization, mechanization, etc. I don't think that we need to reject these sorts of movements altogether. There is a value to the romantic vision that they present to us, and it is a good thing to pursue a good deal of their proposals. What's important is to temper our appreciation and to realize that localism is no more an unalloyed good than globalism is an unalloyed evil. The idea of a symbiosis between the two strikes me as the most accurate description of what is the case, as well as the best way forward.