This seems like a popular article so I will summarize my thoughts in point form. Personally I am intrigued at how technology has aided political activism in such a profound way. I studied political economy in a networked society in my last program as well as the cultural and political policies in Iran (and its effect on media).
* Technology is essentially a tool or a vehicle for gathering, collecting and distributing information that can help drive causes or movements. Samizdat in the Russian bloc decades ago famously showed that tools can and will be created to aide grass roots movements. Social media in the Arab Spring expedited an uprising that was probably bound to happen, though I agree with the author that Tunisia was an unusual trigger point. Political dissent had been brewing in all these Arab countries for a long time. Likewise, Iranian dissent had fomented long before the 1979 collapse of the Shah (who incidentally, ruled Iran with an iron fist). Probably the main surprise to people in Iran or the region was the swiftness of the change, not the opposition itself. Having lived and worked in this part of the world, it is admittedly hard to know what is going on unless you’re actually on the ground, or otherwise have access to very good intelligence, despite the plethora of media and news channels available.
* The increase in globalization has developed a greater demand for localization. The trend in media seems to reflects this – populations want to hold on to something that’s their own, which that they can relate to, whether its culture, language, politics, religion or economy. Programs like ‘Everybody loves Raymond’ and ‘Friends’ are now being sold as formats rather than dubbed versions because as the world is awash with generic programming, audiences are demanding more localized content.
* Images tell a powerful story. The Bouazizi story runs deep and is extraordinary, culminating when a (female) police officer slapped him in public. When corruption, brutality, poverty and injustice are manifested and multiplied manifold, there is enough force to topple a dictatorial regime (some call it people power). I agree with the author that much of what happened in Tunisia remained invisible to the rest of the world, but it could also do with the fact that it happened so quickly. Media access was limited. On the other hand Tahrir square protests were drawn out and images of the millions of people gathered at the square were splashed across the world.
* Information overload chiefly brought on by the internet i think has made news stories and events more ephemeral. We have greater access to media, which is fantastic, but at the same time we juggle more tasks and process more info. Our attention span (in the western world anyway) has decreased which has even impacted newspaper formats – news is now delivered in bite sized pieces . The Internet has perpetuated a breed of couch activists or “slacktivists” . The Kony / Invisible Children campaign is an example of this. This is probably what the author is referring to when he mentions that we encounter a narrower picture of the world than we did in less connected days. We have a lot of information but simply lack the capacity or time to pay as much attention to the details.
* The Green movement protests happened several months before the Arab spring, however, it failed and in some respects, worsened the internal situation as the regime stepped up censorship and blocked media and online access further. Why do you think it failed while the Arab Spring succeeded (Syria TBD)?
I think over time our ability to sift through and process information will improve, but because of the rapid changes in technology, our ability to keep up with it is a challenge. Can you trust any media outlet ? Probably not. But even if the majority of information is biased, there is always an opposing side or story. It rests in our hands to look for that information (or on the flip side, provide it). And the Internet allows us that opportunity.