UPDATE: - I added a relevant TED talk at the bottom of this post.
The past several days have seen great upheaval in Iranian society and this has drawn the attention of the world. There have already been many blogs, articles, cartoons and op-eds posted about the protests, the crackdowns and the innovative use of internet social media in response to the clumsy and blatant subversion of an already flawed democratic process in Iran. I was among those online, within the Twitter community, watching and commenting in real time as these events unfolded – astonished and inspired by the level of participation in helping people to continue to communicate their experiences of the situation in the streets of Iran, to travel safely and to find relative anonymity and escape from immediate persecution.
The major news media, complacent with their level of professionalism and their entrenched foreign bureaus remained blind and mute for an extraordinary length of time whilst the online community rallied to provide the means to evade censorship, pass along reports, photos & videos, facilitate communication amongst allied groups and demonstrate a disruptive solidarity by not only turning their Twitter avatars green (the emblematic colour of the protest movement) but by also altering their Twitter location & time-zone to create a mass of Twitter traffic from Tehran in an effort to dilute and confuse the efforts of the authorities to track down vocal dissidents.
Some of it was, admittedly, childish stuff. It was fun and it was thrilling for the most part – and downright scary and tragic from time to time as reports came in of beatings, shootings, arson and thuggery. The overall tone within the Twitter community was one of somber determination to keep the lines of communication open. Those efforts continue as I write these words.
Last night CBC television aired a report on the events and, as the major news media so often do, characterized the protests as a battle between candidates – carving out the tired icons of good guy and bad guy in their dramatic scenario that attempted to pass as news. In doing so they entirely missed the point of what the protests are fundamentally about.
Regardless of which candidate may be favoured by one group or another the major source of discontent within the protesting Iranian citizenry is how the results of their votes were ignored and a winner was decreed. The process of voting – regardless of how skewed it may have been by virtue of a ruling theocracy – was negated. Therein lies the justified fury of the public. It’s not one group getting snippy cuz they lost the election – it’s a pantload of people getting outraged because there was no fucking election at all.
We live in an age of ever increasing transparency. You can’t get away with shit anymore. Want to abuse your authority and taze someone to death? Okay – just be prepared to watch your sorry guilty ass doing it over and over again for all the world to see for all time on YouTube. You want to run a dictatorship? Go ahead – call it that and carry on about your business – lots of big companies will continue to invest in you – and eventually, inevitably, you’ll be eaten alive by those you oppress. You want to call it a democracy and get folks involved? Great! Just don’t be surprized at how pissed off they get when you dick with the results.
It was first shouted during the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests & police riot but it has never been so true as now: “The whole world is watching.”
We must always remember that the internet isn’t about LOLCats and funny videos and porn and gossip and pirated music & movies – well, it is all that – and more. The internet is communication; the ability to see, hear, speak and act on a global scale instantaneously. The repercussions of that ability are only just now being felt in the way it is dissolving old media business models, triggering new economies, crafting new cultural works and entirely new cultures and, perhaps most importantly, forever altering how politics is conducted.
I’m under no illusions that Twitter or Google are some sort of progressive saving force for humanity. They’re not. They’re just part of a larger and growing process we are experiencing that is the direct result of increased communication amongst all people.
The idea of democracy is still relatively new to most of the world – hell, America is still trying to figure out how to make that one actually work. It isn’t something that can be imposed or imported from one country or culture to another. It is, at it’s most basic level, the will of the people. When people have the ability to communicate freely, democracy – true democracy – flourishes. When people have the ability to communicate and act freely, imposed authority will be challenged.
Many wags will refer to this time as being The Twitter Revolution. Believe me, this is just the tip of the iceberg. While revolutions may occur around this world as our abilities to listen, speak and move as one continues to increase, a more important singular event is emerging and we will come to recognize this slim period of time not as a revolution but as part of our evolution.
All part of the process of growing up.
Growing pains will, without doubt, be experienced. The child cannot be commanded to stay a child and once youth finds a voice it will speak and demand to be heard. And then we will put away our childish things.
And that’s when the process really gets interesting.
P. S. – If you want to participate more directly than just eavesdropping on Twiiter conversations you should check out iran.whyweprotest.net.
UPDATE: Have a listen to Clay Shirky speaking at TED just this past May on how Facebook, Twitter and TXTs help citizens in repressive regimes to report on real news, bypassing censors (however briefly). The end of top-down control of news is changing the nature of politics.
Almost apropos of something, every time I hear someone speak intelligently about the net I keep getting reminded of McLuhan and his observation that old media becomes the content of new media. Fascinating.
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