While Clay Shirky and Malcolm Gladwell debate technology’s role in political and cultural protests around the world, it’s time to restate a fundamental belief of the age of participation: technology is the servant of people who have sat silent as pawns in the modern era. It has always been about people, not technology. From tycoons to ranking members of the press, those who are beyond the line of the “haves” use what they have to manipulate the rest in an endless, colonialist game of “the poor need us.” The anger in the herded masses has always been there, but technology has create a horizontal connection between everyone that allows them to organize and talk to each other without going through a microphone controlled by the status quo. It is the stuff of revolutions, and it will not go away simply by some government shutting down the pipe. Once having tasted such freedom, it’s impossible for this generation to go back.
The Web is indeed a marvel. It’s spawning the second Gutenberg moment, but we must never forget that it is people who are using the tools of modernity to scrape and claw their way to something better, not technology that’s doing the leading. That’s why the action of Egypt in shutting itself off from the world is so incredibly significant. The action proves only one thing: that taking to the streets in protest is justified, and this will only strengthen the resolve of the protesters. Moreover, Egypt’s wanton killing of its citizens in the name of quelling anarchy does likewise, for what kind of country will be left when the killing stops? Totalitarian law and order serves only the government that gives the orders, and any attempt to justify it as on behalf of the people is ludicrous.
As the world watches events unfold in the Middle East, we must all be mindful that this is just the beginning, because horizontal connectivity impacts every institution that exists based on protected knowledge or by herding citizens in the name of taking care of them. It’s over, people. Dylan’s prophetic words are coming to be.
Get ready, because we might be next.