Friday, January 28, 2011

Egypt: the trouble with being too geeky about protest movements

A brewing protest movement in Egypt was reportedly "fueled by blogs and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook". Apparently, a perceived dependence on these sites to disseminate information vital to the cause -- and presumably underwrite its success -- is what is behind social media chatter expressing "indignation" over the shutting of the Net out of Egypt. Indeed, social media geeks make it sound like the shut down of the Internet in Egypt is such a rotten development for the brewing anti-government movement there.

Reported on Renesys...
Approximately 3,500 individual BGP routes were withdrawn, leaving no valid paths by which the rest of the world could continue to exchange Internet traffic with Egypt’s service providers. Virtually all of Egypt’s Internet addresses are now unreachable, worldwide.

We forget that whereas a phenomenally successful ouster of a tyrant -- the 1986 Edsa "Revolution" that saw the downfall of strongman Ferdinand Marcos -- was effected without the Internet, without mobile phones and, therefore, without text messaging even, more technologically-enabled "movements" to depose presidents that followed it in the Philippines pathetically failed. Indeed, the 1986 Edsa "Revolution" was the real deal in the sense that it was unprecedented, unforeseen, spontaneous, and utterly uncontrived.

Nowadays we seem to be so beholden to and blinkered by the "power" of the Net that we forget that in the Third World, devices that have the most widespread and deepest penetration into the population are humble early 20th-century-technology powered devices -- radio and television. Indeed, the most crucial battles fought in mid- to late-1980's Philippine revolutions were for television and radio stations.

Sketchy reports are trickling out of Egypt, but a key question (specially now, as the Net goes dark over there) is whether protest leaders had taken the continued availability of the Net as a communication tool for granted and missed opportunities to include in their plans the securing of the lower-tech, but equally if not vastly more effective radio-based mass communication installations of their country.

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