Sunday, February 13, 2011
The Facebook Kids
The controversy over whether the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions are internet-based, or as some like to call them, Facebook revolutions, is very interesting. I personally stand at midpoint between those who believe that the tools vary but do not alter the outcome and those who strongly adhere to the belief that it was only successful because it was driven by social media platforms. Yes, it is the people's response that counts but I cannot just view the new communication technologies as mere tools such as Gutenberg's printing press- as someone said- or phones, or broadcast media. In this same token, it is also naive to disregard all the historical, political, economic, and social factors that stand at the root of those revolutions, or any other revolution. To assume that people mobilized because of a Facebook page is stupid but I strongly believe that for the first time the message and the tool have become one. Ousted Husni Mubarak named the Egyptian youths "the Facebook kids" and that holds a strong meaning. This labeling does not only reveal an ignorance from the part of this dictator about the power of the social media but also unravels the gap between two generations, the pre-digital and the post-digital. For me a revolution that deserves its name is one that revolts against a whole set of social concepts that are ignorant and backward in the least, a revolution against an older generation, in simple terms. It is in this sense that the new tools derive their meaning. Imagine this very simple anecdote: Before the age of mobile phones, young lovers who wanted to meet had to come up with very complicated scenarios of diversion, conspiring most probably with others in order to meet secretly and only for a short while behind the bushes. The mobile phone made this very common behavior a lot easier. Young lovers could text secretly very easily under the blanket in the middle of the night. This behavior would drive a conservative older generation mad. The medium in this case is not a mere tool of communication, it is rather a tool of deception (for an older generation, who for the sake of argument, we can call the oppressor) and a tool for breaking free for the younger generation (the revolution). Some would like to argue that the difficulties before the mobile phone technology render the experience more enjoyable. They are wrong and they can ask those who did it to find out. Now the cyber space allows for much more maneuver than mobile phones. The room for deception is much wider here and the real-time factor is of essence but the most relevant factor is that a new generation has identified itself or has been identified by an older generation with these tools. They did not defend themselves against such an argument. On the contrary they themselves identified with these tools and proved to their "oppressors" what they or these tools can do. This generation, my generation, has been long lectured about "its failure", "its meaningless", "its nothingness", and "its uselessness". What this generation proved is that the older generation was wrong. What Facebook came to say is that "You have underestimated us". And in this sense, yes, You can call us "the Facebook Kids". This is what the "Facebook kids" did.