[iDC] The Twitter Revolution Must Die

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Thu Feb 3 16:15:09 UTC 2011

I think, Ulises, that you are right to point to try to break through
the dichotomy.  Like a lot of people, I get pretty frosted when I hear
social phenomenon, especially when it is so vital and critical as the
struggle for rights, attributed to a new technology.  Over my entire
life, consumer technology has been equated with agency.  And, quite
logically, successful brands move from modest claims of agency (this
toothpaste is better than that toothpaste at preventing cavities) to
speculative claims of liberation (this toothpaste not only prevents
cavities, but creates new levels of white hot whiteness in your
mouth!).  By default, we are in the habit of seeing ourselves as
something considerably less than we are without our products (I mean,
even baby teeth are not as white as the ones in the ads, right?).  So,
while it is kind of crass to call the events in Tunisia or Egypt a
"Twitter" revolution, it is hardly surprising that some, especially in
the US, would try to attribute the cause, the means, and the success
of the revolution to a technology rather than to people.  In America,
half the population doesn't even believe that the "public" is a
valid--We tend to call collective action "Big Government" and act
collectively to elect people whose sole priority is to destroy Big
Government so that the "job creators" (that's actually what we call
the billionaires in the US) can provide goods and services to meet
needs that we supposedly could not possibly meet by working together.
 In fact, the face of "radical" politics in the United States is
dominated by the right reactionaries parading around as the
"revolutionary" face of the more conservative of the two big parties.
 We are suckers for things like "The Twitter Revolution" because our
imaginations tend to be impoverished...  we have a really hard time
imagining people demanding peace, justice and freedom.  Of course, I
am exaggerating here, but if you watch TV....  that's the ideology
that is projected.

Of course, the landscape upon which human individuals and collectives
operate always exists before their actions.  In this sense, there is
some truth to pointing out that aspects of this revolution are
different are different from others.  200 years ago, the police didn't
have tear gas, they didn't have special sonic weapons, they didn't
have schools that trained them in low intensity conflict and
counterinsurgency.  Protesters, on the other hand, didn't have
wireless communication devices and digital images they could send.
There wasn't television, etc.  Of course, everybody knows that the
means of social interaction of a given society shapes the way desires
are formed, articulated, challenged, repressed, and pursued.

What I find interesting, however, is in the discussion of technologies
of communication, the focus is on Facebook and Twitter....  when the
real innovations seem to be driven by the variety of holes that are
being exploited by the protesters themselves against the attempted
media blackout.  The only reason, in the case of Egypt, that we have
information is because people are patching the technology themselves.
And when you see people putting their skin on the line, walking away
bloodied or, worse, being carried away, you realize that they are
making the revolution themselves.  It's hard to imagine that Twitter
is such a factor in someone's decision to brave the billyclubs,
teargas and bullets as much as it is humanity.  And, in those cases
where messages were disseminated via a particular channel, what is
more compelling is the successful social solidarity that is imagined
across the span of limited information.  To go from a 140 character
message to a full-blown bodily confrontation is really a triumph of
the human capacity to identify with others given sparse communication.
 Prisoners in isolation have kept their sanity and formed community by
tapping out messages with spoons on the walls of their cells.  When
one channel closes, people create another.

Which brings me back to the question of the ideology projected in the
idea of the Twitter Revolution itself. There are economic
opportunities in branding this revolution and their are sad political
ramifications to seeing this event as a technological one, rather than
a human one.  The way we who are witnessing the event on TV, radio,
newsprint, and internet make sense of this revolution is not entirely
removed from the struggle that people are engaged in in Eqypt.  They
fight against a certain type autocratic rule that is a node on a
continuum of political power that is interconnected.  We are a node on
the same network.  The regime they challenge has been propped up by a
world order that has many public faces, one of which is our own.  In
Egypt, Mubarak tried to impose a blackout, in the US, we try to create
a narrative for the revolution rather than simply blacking it out.
One way is to call it a "Twitter revolution," another is to downplay
the history of foreign policy, and a third is to create a distance
between the people in Egypt and the people in the United States.  But,
I also think there are people who see in Egypt and Tunisia hope and
encouragement, the profound stirring of the human spirit, not just in
what one imagines the people are fighting for, but in how they are
fighting for each other.  Part of the challenge, I suppose, is in
figuring out how best to seek and express solidarity, not just as a
gesture, but in a meaningful way within our own communities.  How do
we learn from the Egyptian people?  How do we represent this struggle
honestly?  How should we struggle at home?


On Wed, Feb 2, 2011 at 10:56 AM, Ulises Mejias <ulises.mejias at oswego.edu> wrote:
> Thank you, all, for your comments.
> I'm afraid that while I was trying to get beyond the "media did it" (as Mark
> Deuze puts it) v. the "people did it" dichotomy, my condemnation of
> corporate branding seems to have skewed my argument towards "people did it."
> While this is a function of my own biases, and it felt like it needed to be
> said at the moment, it is nonetheless problematic. I agree with Mark when he
> says that "lived experience is synonymous with mediated experience"
> (specially when we take into account all forms of mediation, including
> language and non-verbal communication, not just digital mediation).
> Actor Network Theory has taught us that agency is a complex web of
> interactions in which humans and non-humans intervene, and I agree with you,
> Anna, that we need more nuanced maps of the assemblages. I also agree with
> you, Biella, that these assemblages provide new affordances for
> co-witnessing the event.
> But is analysis and co-witnessing the only modes of participation? What is
> our responsibility, as media practitioners/scholars/artists/educators/etc.,
> at a time like this?
> -Ulises
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