My friend and fellow observer of global patterns, Timothy Rayner, describes the Occupy protests as a “swarm movement”, suggesting that we may be in the midsts of an unprecedented pattern of self-organization that wasn’t possible before the internet. I am inclined to agree with his core thesis and want to suggest that we are observing what complexity researchers call self-organized criticality, defined in the following way:
"A point at which a system changes radically its behavior or structure, for instance, from solid to liquid. In standard critical phenomena, there is a control parameter which an experimenter can vary to obtain this radical change in behavior. In the case of melting, the control parameter is temperature.
Self-organized critical phenomena, by contrast, is exhibited by driven systems which reach a critical state by their intrinsic dynamics, independently of the value of any control parameter. The archetype of a self-organized critical system is a sand pile. Sand is slowly dropped onto a surface, forming a pile. As the pile grows, avalanches occur which carry sand from the top to the bottom of the pile. At least in model systems, the slope of the pile becomes independent of the rate at which the system is driven by dropping sand. This is the (self-organized) critical slope. "