It’s looking more and more likely that Libya will be the latest of the domino nations to shrug off an oppressive regime, and hopefully find a better alternative. The power of social networking will be heavily cited as a prime factor in the destabilisation of hitherto unbudgeable despots like Mubarak and Gaddafi. Or, if you’re Malcolm Gladwell, nothing whatever to do with it.
Gladwell’s stance exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of the way people worldwide are using the Web. He clearly still sees the Internet as something you access through a big box in your study. Increasingly, computers are coming off the desktop and onto the street. Netbooks and smartphones give you a rich contextual environment to work in, but you can update your Twitter account from any phone via SMS.
Sites like Facebook and Twitter have transcended their original purposes and become the interface of communication for the 21st century. Having the ability to see updates rolling up my screen from people in Tahir Square as the protests were going on in Egypt was astonishing and humbling.
It wasn’t surprising, though. These sites are easy to use and can be adapted to any social purpose. If you want to use Facebook to send photos of you and your mates at a party to the planet, you can. If you want to use Facebook to send videos of street protests in Tunisia, you can, and just as easily (unless the government switches the internet off). Fitting Twitter et al into small light mobile phone apps puts the world in your pocket in ways that the inventors simply cannot have seen. Look at the grassroots, decentralised way protest groups like UK Uncut have grown, nimbly wrong-footing traditional forms of protest, getting the word out quickly. That protest vector is spreading now, with the first US actions scheduled for this weekend.
If you’re still confused by the way that a service that was denigrated as a self-indulgent waste of time can now be held up as a prime motivator behind the collapse of long-standing dictatorships across the planet, then you clearly haven’t read enough William Gibson.
The street, after all, finds it’s own use for things.
(While writing this, news emerged of the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. X&HT sends it’s thoughts and best wishes to all those affected by the crisis – a number that thankfully does not include this writer’s parents, who are in the country at the moment and were in Christchurch as recently as Saturday. )