“Amma, why do 17 of us have to live in this room? why don’t we ask the sheikh next door, if he’ll let us use his pool?”
Ok! I made that up. Rather, someone who I was discussing the tectonic shifts in Mid-East and North Africa which is making the entire Arab- Islamic world resemble the Pacific ring of fire with earth shaking events shaping the politics of the region and in turn the world in a way never witnessed before.
So, I asked, what in your opinion, is driving the well- educated, and the semi-literate rub shoulders? And bring down regime after regime from Tunisia, to Egypt, with Libya ( in civil war), and engulfing Yemen, Bahrain, and maybe soon, Syria.
And while the answer contained just seven factors, it would be presumptuously to say – It’s Social Media, My Friend.
Reason One: My Name is Hussain!
Barack Hussain Obama, the one man who stunned US and the World by successfully using social media to win the 2008 US elections, and won a Nobel Prize doing so, is more than just an American Icon. My interlocutor has a telling statement! “you know, ever since Barack Obama won the elections and went to Cairo to address the Islamic world (video link here), the Google search on his name shot through the roof.” The next step in the waterfall reasoning was stereotypical, “If the most powerful nation in the world, which is routinely labeled as the monster ( Capitalist infidels) in his part of the world, can choose a man with Hussain as his middle name, with a Muslim father, why does my country , which is an Islamic country, designed to promote True Believers of Islam, like me, never give me a chance to live my dream.”
Reason Two: He has 3 pools and 27 cars
Nope! That’s not about Obama. Though, I wouldn’t doubt that the mushrooming cyber cafes across North Africa and Mid-East serve up bandwidth to zoom in upto 200 m’s height onto the White House ( never tried that one though!), my friend mentioned that hours of surfing Google Earth, especially in the region, was not to find directions to go wadi-bashing in LandCruisers or find camel trails of ancient times. It was to fulfil the voyeuristic instinct in man answering the basic question, “so what happens behind those high walls?”. So the palaces and the lifestyles of the true haves vs the ones shared by the true believers, became a jarring note, which soon translated to ‘equal or rather more opportunity than I have now!’
Reason Three: I have Mobile Internet
That’s right! And high speed data networks in the cities, and with Gmail, Yahoo, and BlackBerry Messenger I can be in touch with almost anyone I want without anyone stopping me for sedition, or suspicious conduct. These same devices, beat the ban on media and took the story right out from Tahrir Square, to the world.
Reason Four: I’m a Social Networker
It’s not about me, anymore. Its We! And we meet, and hang out, but before we do, we plan our moves on Orkut scraps, Facebook messages, Twitter updates, and likes, tweets, comments, and events. What we hear, we share, and then we participate, and we become who we want to. Holding candle light vigils, chanting slogans, beating on closed doors, we are doing it, because we are like this only.
Reason Five: WE trust wikileaks
I don’t trust TV or print anymore. Never did! Which is why we didn’t share our plans via videotape with Al Jazeera like those Al Quaida blokes. My friends, are all reading blogs, and wiki’s and then there’s this huge leak of US spy cable transcripts which seems to say it exactly as we thought it was. We love Wikileaks. We believe it, because all those governments are trying to hang the founder.
Reason Six: WE don’t throw rocks-Gandhi Rocks!
We aren’t into using slingshots like the Palestinian kids next door, or shooting AK-47’s in the air. That’s the last generation, look where it got them. Low level government jobs, small time businesses, hovels to live in, and that thought that I have to suffer now to enjoy later.
We don’t read much but something about this man Gandhi, who Barack Obama quotes, makes loads of sense. And yes! When we sat down in non-violent protest in front of army tanks, we saw the fear in the eyes of the soldiers. We found out the truth about war. There has to be someone shooting bullets at you, and you fight to save your partner. If we don’t shoot or threaten those guys in olive drab, they have nothing they can throw at us. There is no victory, if there is no fight!
Reason Seven: My life is on YouTube!
And just in case, you got tired of seeing the same old anti- aircraft shelling exclusive footage from CNN, come see the video I made on my mobile phone about me and my friends, and uploaded on Youtube.(amateur protest video here) All we are asking for is an opportunity. An opportunity to believe in a dream, make it my own, through my hard work and determination, just as the other Hussain, who lives in the White House of the United States of Amrika (sic) did!
End Note: This conversation did happen, but don’t ask with who, I ain’t telling! Its Not just about Social media, and social technologies, It’s about People! And for the first time, people who are choosing to lead, and drive and choose new leaders from their own. The world salutes YOU!
P.S. the last word on this topic hasn’t been written yet, and wont be. The next post will explore the implications of this Social Media revolution in the Far East.