Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How Facebook, Twitter and their Likes are Changing the World

Each time I read about the revolts breaking out in various parts of Arab and the details of how the protesters are organizing them, one question crosses my mind: Would it be possible in pre-social-media era? Facebook, Twitter and blogs are as much to thank for the success and spread of the revolutions as the people who are revolting.

For example, Egyptian protesters not just took inspiration from their Tunisian counterparts (where the protests broke out first) but also the know-how of how to organize and carry out successful protests. The Time has reported a Tunisian blogger as writing how a protester can stay safe and agile by wearing comfortable clothes and the importance of carrying water to protest venues. “Don’t discuss your strategy with just anyone you meet at protest site because it could be a security person in plain clothes,” the blogger warns.

It explains why the Internet becomes the first casualty when nervous governments want to stifle freedom of speech. The Internet gives people access to informal media (or social media) – Facebook, Twitter and blogs etc – empowering them to express their views in as-is form. This democratic character of informal media makes it more worrisome for repressive governments than conventional media which being organized are easy to control and suppress.

An Egyptian, a Google employee, set up a subversive group on Facebook and was jailed by authorities, and tortured. After the authorities freed him under public pressure, he went to Tahrir Square and gave a speech describing how he was tortured while in jail. Next day, the Egyptians who were part of his Facebook group went to Tahrir Square to join him, triggering protests that would eventually force Mubarak to step down.

History may have instances where a person singularly kicked off mass protests, but what is unlikely to have precedence is a popular protest in one country beginning a chain of revolutions in several countries, leaving regimes toppled and fates of nations reshaped in its trail. And no one knows where it will stop. That’s the power of social media.

                           A Scandalous Literary Work

Currently I am reading a book that many will recoil at – Lady Chatterley’s Lover – by D.H Lawrence. The book was published in 1928 and had created a furore in England and America because of its controversial storyline which is about extramarital affairs with graphic details of sexual intimacies.

Chatterleys are an unhappy couple. An accident has left Mr. Chatterley physically challenged and unable to perform conjugal duties. He also is indifferent towards his wife and encourages her to have a chequred relationship with someone so that Mr. Chatterley can get an heir to his immense wealth. Lonely and unloved, Mrs. Chatterley embarks on an affair with her husband’s gamekeeper, a caretaker.

The story gives you the glimpses of old English society, very lopsided and snob, and shows how the upper classes were indifferent to the plight of the ones below them. The Chatterleys have collieries and stay in a mansion, a world completely insulated from the lives of those working in their mines.

Lawrence had to have the manuscript typed by an Italian because several decent-minded English-knowing typists had refused to type it earlier due to heavy use of sexual expletives in the book. Upon its publication in the US, the book was banned. The ban spawned pirated copies which sold very well. It was DH Lawrence's last novel.

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