The True Tools of the Arab Spring

The role of social media in the Arab Spring has been surrounded by amassed conversation over recent years. Is social media the backbone to the political uprising in the Middle East? Does the power lie in the brave activists themselves? Or perhaps social media isn’t where the revolt clearly begins, or ends? The majority of arguments surround similar cyber-utopian, cyber-realist, and conspiratorial views.

According to Morosov (2012), many accounts of the Arab Spring and the Internet’s contribution share a common theme – ‘Tweets were sent. Dictators were toppled. Internet = Democracy.’ Gracing these events as Twitter and Facebook “revolutions” just might not be the appropriate term, in fact, Wolfsfeld, Segev and Sheafer (2013) suggest that it is unlikely that social media played a major role in these times at all. They believe that the significant increase in the use of social media is much more likely to follow protest than to lead the protest itself. However, I’m not sure if I entirely agree.

There are many examples where social media is seen to give voice to the voiceless and coordinate movements which otherwise would not have developed into such fundamental proceedings. Sure, Facebook and Twitter alone do not have the ability to topple governments, but brave people with access to others do. Newsom and Legel’s article takes on a similar cyber-utopian approach, recognising online activism as empowering marginalised voices, providing opportunity for cross-boundary dialogue, and offering a drive for social change (Newsom & Lengel 2012, p.33).

Take 26-year-old Asmaa Mahfouz for example, an Arab woman who made a vlog calling on others to demand their human rights and disapprove the current political regime. This was undeniably a precarious move for any woman in an Arab nation. The video went viral on YouTube and social media, sparking mass protest in Cairo and making her a symbol of the Arab Spring.

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In Arab cultures, women’s voices are often silenced, so women like Mahfouz are increasingly harnessing the power of social media and taking to these platforms in order to be heard. Newsom and Lengel (2012) suggest that their voices resonate as very powerful in the online environment because of this.

With a global reach, no filter and no cost to participate, the power of social networks in these situations is undoubtedly clear. Twitter and Facebook can be effectively used to voice opinions and organise protest, while YouTube has the ability to capture, share and expose.

Social media are indisputably tools contributing to social change, however, behind the keyboards and screen names also lay brave activists and many scrupulous long-term efforts to engage with political institutions (Morosov 2012). Cohesively, these are ultimately the driving and essential elements behind the Arab Spring’s political revolutions.

References:

Morosov, E 2011, ‘Facebook and Twitter are just places revolutionaries go’, The Guardian, 8 March, viewed 11 October 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/07/facebook-twitter-revolutionaries-cyber-utopians

Newsom, V & Lengel, L 2012, ‘Arab Women, Social Media, and the Arab Spring: Applying the framework of digital reflexivity to analyse gender and online activism’, Journal of International Women’s Studies, vol.13, no.9, pp.31-45, http://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1004&context=jiws

Wolfsfeld, G, Segev, E & Sheafer, T 2013, ‘Social Media and the Arab Spring: Politics Comes First’, The International Journal of Press/Politics, vol.18, no.2, pp.115-137, http://www.arifyildirim.com/ilt508/gadi.wolfsfeld.pdf

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The Push-Pull Between Author and Reader

 

… not the opening you were expecting? Between the 16th and 19th centuries, this was how poets, novelists and essayists addressed their audiences (Dorner 1993). The writer had to ‘woo’ the reader from the very beginning and there was an expectation that once they began reading, they would remain faithful and loyal, staying with the reader from the beginning of the text until the very end.

My, oh my, how the author-text-reader relationship has changed. We now exist in a society of textual ‘users’. With masses of information digitally available to us on any one subject, we skim, we study, and we scan until we find something that is of use to us –a notion entirely relatable to me as a university student. Dorner (1993) says that the author has adapted and now greets its audience with a “Look, I know you haven’t got time to fall in love, so I’ll inject you with my ideas as quickly as I can”, and that instant gratification suits our generation of readers just perfectly.

The digital media environment has also created a new ‘use’ of texts, as the notion of interactivity becomes increasingly prominent. With the ease of cut and paste functions, audiences can now co-participate, re-sequence and interactively transform texts how they see fit.

Take music, for example. It was once composed and produced for the audience to listen; the writer wrote, and the audience listened. Simple. Nowadays, when a piece of music is produced, not only is it consumed, it’s expected to be re-mixed by other producers or covered by different artists, it’s played alongside video productions and it’s transformed into digital ring tones. Cover (2006) suggests that this audience interactivity with texts redefines and blurs the traditional author-text-reader relationship even further.

Intellectual property is problematised in the online environment and texts are now valued for their commodification, rather than for what they truly are. Ultimately, we can see how the digital arena has transformed the notion of authorship since the days of ‘Dear Reader’ with audience respect and loyalty.

References:

Cover, R 2006, ‘Audience inter/active: Interactive media, narrative control and reconceiving audience history’, New Media & Society, vol.8, no.1, pp.139-158.

Dorner, J 1993, ‘When readers become end-users: Intercourse without seduction’, Logos, vol.4, no.1, pp.6-11.

Cyborgs: A Fictional Reality

‘Chiba. Yeah. See, Molly’s been Chiba, too’. And she showed me her hands, fingers slightly spread. Her fingers were slender, tapered, very white against the polished burgundy nails. Ten blades snicked straight out from their recesses beneath her nails, each one a narrow, double edged scalpel in pale blue steel. – Gibson (1988)

What you’re reading is an excerpt from William Gibson’s (1988) ‘Johnny Mnemonic’, a piece of cyberpunk literature depicting a science fictional world. Here, each human body’s surface and organic structure has been technologically manipulated and enhanced, creating ‘cyborgs’ with unimaginable strength and supremacy. While Molly has retractable razor blades built into her hands, others have the teeth of a Doberman or sophisticated inbuilt information storage systems.

The ‘Johnny Mnemonic’ world seems as far fetched as science fiction comes, but when we look a little closer into the world around us, the technology is in fact already here and the cyborg is not so much of a fictional creation after all.

Tomas (2000) suggests that Gibson’s fictional world is slowly becoming a very real part of contemporary existence and says that given recent advances in information technology, genetic engineering and nano-technology, changes like these will soon encompass the human body and its sensorial architecture.

In our world of rapidly evolving technologies, the human body is increasingly open to technological enhancement. We’ve given super-human vision to the colour-blind, developed high-tech prosthetic limbs, inbuilt computer chips and information storage devices, developed a cybernetic piece of living tissue, and forged a bio-hacking phenomenon. We are now seeing the gradual merging of man and machine, which are creating capabilities that far exceed typical human functions.

So instead of viewing cyberpunk literature as radical science fiction, perhaps we should inspect these texts as theories of the future, giving us an insight into human evolution and determining which body alterations will provide the best competitive edge in a prospective cyborg world. If you could make one alteration to your wiring or physical structure to create your ultimate cyborg self, what would it be and why?

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References:

Gibson, W 1988, ‘Johnny Mnemonic’, Burning Chrome, Grafton, London, pp.14-36.

Smart, S 2010, Cyborg Eye, image, Bike Rdr, viewed 23 March, http://blog.bikeridr.com/2010/03/advantage-cyborgs/

Tomas, D 2000, ‘The Technophilic Body: On Technicity in William Gibson’s Cyborg Culture’, in Bell, D & Kennedy, B (eds.), The Cybercultures Reader, Routledge, London, pp.175-189.