Like everyone else who cares about anything but ones immediate surroundings, I’m following the protests in Egypt, and find myself deeply touched by the images coming out, ranging from the beautiful sight of police officers and protesters praying together to the terror of violence, chaos, and human suffering.
While history is being written on the streets of Cairo, many people are also trying to write their first drafts of the role of new information and communication technologies in the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
I’m glad that this debate has mostly moved beyond (a) the increasingly sterile polemic between cyber-optimists and cyber-pessimists and (b) the mis-phrased question of whether the internet and other tools and technological infrastructures “caused” these events.
Just a few pieces I’ve found insightful so far are these:
1. Mary Joyce’s sketch of a “digital activism and digital repression framework” to get beyond the largely separate discussion of how new tools help or hinder on the one hand activists, and on the other hand state apparatuses.
2. Mathew Ingam reiterating the basic truth to keep in mind, “It’s not Twitter or Facebook, it’s the power of the Network.” “Network” here should be understood as what sociologists and science-studies folks call a “socio-technical” network, i.e., one that involves both people and the tools they use to connect across space and time.
3. Nancy Scola on the complications, calculations, and possible miscalculations behind Egypt’s regime first basically shutting down the internet and later turning it back on. Even when a government is in a position to turn to repression (online as well as offline), there are always complicating factors.
A nice overview of how Egyptians tried to circumvent and overcome the government’s attempt to shut down internet communications (by Nesrine Abdel Sattar from the Oxford Internet Institute).
Further supplement. I can’t believe Malcolm Gladwell actually wrote this :
“People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other. How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.”
I guess “less interesting” can be interpreted charitably as Mr. Gladwell having a keener interest in political science and sociology than media and communications research–which is fine–but I must say I find that this particular piece of glib polemic trivializes the challenge of communication faced by activists, and belittles both the problems of censorship and the effort of all the people who have risked life and limb spreading samizdat publications, handing along tapes of Khomeni’s sermons, and, yes, organizing protests using–amongst other things–Facebook and Twitter.