Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Exactly What Role Did Social Media Play in the Egyptian Revolution?

One of the major themes of our time that I'm most intrigued by is the rapid dissemination of information through digital technology. This is changing our society on every level; from our interpersonal relationships, our communities, our churches, our politics and our global human civilization.

As I closely watched the revolution in Tunisia and Egypt unfold, I had a nagging curiosity about the role of social media. When the world watched on as Egypt flipped the Internet switch off, my suspicions were all but confirmed.

Fast Company put together a great analysis of the 3 dimensions (vertically, horizontally, and compounding) that social media contributed to the revolution in Egypt. While a monumental event such as overthrowing a 30 year tyrannical regime can make us hopeful about technology, many of us seem divided on something like Wikileaks.

A lot of the changes happening in our social structures due to digital technology can make us feel uneasy, and rightly so. I used to understand this agitation as digital technology being "unnatural" or "foreign", like foreign bacteria being rejected by our immune system.

Digital technology is no less natural of a tool for social change than the printing press in the last millennium, no less natural to the human condition than even a pencil and paper. What has changed is the degree of complexity. And with greater complexity comes greater risk. But complexity and risk is hardly unnatural to the human condition either (one might even say that complexity and risk defines human nature).

I say all of this because I think we should not shrink away from technology and reject it as unnatural when it makes us uneasy. We are uneasy because we are unsure of how to responsibly wield it, we lack Wisdom individually and as a society.

I believe our technology has outstripped our Wisdom. We need to slow down, open our eyes, and practice self-restraint in wielding new technology. This is easier said than done because there are many very powerful forces at play which compel our society to unwittingly wield now and ask questions later (the central role of consumerism in our society manifested as techno-lust and the demands for efficiency in free-market capitalism).
But I'm not content to submit to this strong current because I believe there's a better way. This motivates me to advocate self-restraint and more responsible adoption of technology today (optimistic) while also seeking to anticipate the changes in technology of tomorrow so we can brace ourselves for the ensuing chaos that is sure to follow (pessimistic).

I am uneasily hopeful when it comes to digital technology - pinned between the tension of optimism and pessimism.

No comments: