[iDC] The Twitter Revolution Must Die

Lucia Sommer sommerlucia at gmail.com
Thu Feb 3 18:43:11 UTC 2011

Thanks all, nice discussion.

It's also worth pointing out that Facebook and Twitter facilitated the
Mubarak regimes' agency as well, and that in fact the strategic pamphlet
distributed by organizers of the resistance asked that it not be circulated
via those or other website channels because they were being monitored by the
police and state security:


Instead, it was distributed mostly via very old-fashioned means -
photocopying and being handed out to other demonstrators.

Yes, "lived experience is synonymous with mediated experience." The problem
is that in much discussion of the enabling uses of technology, somehow that
observation always gets used to collapse the very real differences between
various *kinds* of lived, mediated experience - as if there is NO difference
at all between sitting at a computer typing, participating in a
demonstration, putting one's body on the line to jam the machinery of power,
or (to return to the earlier discussion about the classroom) engaging in a
face-to-face conversation or experience with others in real time and space.
What always seems to get elided are the unique qualities of open-ended,
emergent, embodied experience.

Social media can be useful tools that aid in communication and change, but
actually engaging with others in real time and space is necessary for
transformation, whether of ideas or of a political order.


On Thu, Feb 3, 2011 at 11:15 AM, davin heckman <davinheckman at gmail.com>wrote:

> 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?
> Peace!
> Davin
> 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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Lucia Sommer
60 College Street
Buffalo, NY 14201
(716) 359-3061
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