My heart and mind are swirling this Friday morning, as I consider all that has taken place in the last 18 days thousands of miles away in one of our world’s oldest civilizations, Egypt. It’s the story of everyday people overcoming despotism and the tools they used. It’s the story of rising media stars working for a fairly new media entity in the Middle East and the tools they used. I’ll leave the geopolitical and street level analysis to others, because the narrative that interests me is history and how the Woodstock that was Tahrir Square changes things forever.
Tim Shey tweeted “We’re all Egyptians today.” In Berlin, Peter Glaser tweeted “The 21st century begins here, not on 9/11.” These two profound thoughts strike me as completely true, and the path they illuminate is one of cultural upheaval and change (chaos). It’s the essence of everything I’ve written about in the last ten years, and I honestly don’t know where to begin. I wish I was 20 and not 65, for I’d love to witness the fulfillment of prophecy.
We’ve entered the Age of Participation, a great cultural shift equivalent only to the combination of Gutenberg’s printing press and Wycliffe’s common English bible. The industrial age — the age of Modernism — is gone (or going), with its institutional command and control and its “expertise.” Jay Rosen, brilliant 21st Century writer and observer, has a new term that I like, the Great Horizontal. It describes the mass, yet intimate, horizontal connectivity that is disrupting everything. As I wrote recently, the Web is about 3-way communications: up, down and horizontal. Power can talk to us. We can talk back. But the one that disrupts everything is our ability to talk to and with each other. In Egypt, this has played out for all the world to see: tangible, revolutionary results of simple tools with silly names, like Twitter and Facebook. That — along with the omnipresent “eye” of Al Jazeera English — made today’s outcome inevitable and opens the door wide now for despots and dictators everywhere to fall. Egypt’s victory is not the end; it is very much the beginning.
I’ve written previously about how impossible it is to maintain an autocratic, totalitarian government in the presence of horizontal connectivity. It’s not the spreading of new ideas that strengthens the people, although that’s certainly a part of it; it’s the ability of people to react among themselves — in big and small ways — that creates the disruption. Witness Egypt 2011.
I have a step daughter in high school in the U.S. and four grandchildren in school in Jordan, and I can’t help but think that every school everywhere should be exposing their students to what’s taking place today instead of the usual reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. This is their world. They will be responsible for creating and implementing the form of democracy that will suit the Great Horizontal. The time to talk about it is now.