Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Can't Stop the Signal
A quick follow-up to Monday's post about the cable networks' failure to properly cover the situation in Iran over the weekend:
To be honest, Twitter kind of annoys the hell out of me. I get that just about everyone's on it these days, and that it certainly provides real-time information in ways that other social networks might not be able to (which gives 99.9% of its subscribers the chance to relay such ground-breaking information as the fact that they really liked that new episode of How I Met Your Mother, or maybe that they're having a particularly troublesome bowel movement). But for me, after blogging, MySpace and Facebook, I'm just all shared out. I'd say that there's an entirely separate column to be written on the cultural phenomenon of surrendering every last vestige of your personal privacy; obviously, though, that's already been done to death by social anthropologist types far more learned than myself.
All of that said, there's no denying that the rise of Twitter -- and the prevalence of networking outlets in general around the globe -- has brought hyper-connectivity to an entirely new level within our society. More than ever, we really are "one world" thanks to the ability of each of us to log on and share our thoughts and experiences.
Which is what makes the situation going on in Iran right now, literally and figuratively, the first honest-to-God "Internet Revolution."
Since almost the very beginning, the oppressing of an entire people was relatively easy. You used military might to subdue them, true. But you also made sure to keep an iron grip on the media so that no one inside your culture or outside saw anything you didn't want them to see. What we've witnessed in Iran over the past several days is the collapse of control on the part of a somewhat dictatorial government -- and not just in a military or political sense. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration ran every play in the trusted totalitarian crackdown playbook: It attempted to shut down television stations and newspapers, it tried to disrupt cell signals, it expelled journalists it found annoying by refusing to renew their visas -- and yet in the end it couldn't stop the story from getting out. That's because there are now 30-million some-odd journalists in Iran and it can't expel them all. Anyone with access to a mobile phone could shoot video; anyone who could get to a computer or could upload video to Facebook remotely had the ability to put the story out there for the world to see. The government was powerless to censor any of it.
It's really an amazing thing to behold: a truly landmark event not simply for Iran but for the entire world and how we connect with each other -- and what we can do with that connection to actually better our lives.
I've made the point before that the ascendancy of new media as a cultural force has brought with it an unprecedented level of transparency -- it's made it much harder for a few to lie to many outright. Neither the suppression of information nor the oppression of people survives very long in sunlight -- and with everyone being given the ability to be his or her own crusader, through something as simple as a blog, or Facebook, or Twitter, there's a hell of a lot of sunlight out there right now.
Just ask the government of Iran.
The truth, like everything else these days, can be spread virally. And hopefully, it really will set you free.