Six degrees of digital separation

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Last night I was watching Al Jazeera International, and it started to sound like Hosni Mubarak had finally resigned. Instead of breaking out the champagne, I calmly picked up my iPhone and verified facts with my friends on Twitter. Sure enough, he had not stepped down as president, and Al Jazeera also confirmed this several minutes later.

As I might have stated in previous posts, I am a thirty something very vanilla (ok with a dash of cinnamon) expat Australian housewife. I do not have a single Egyptian friend (not by choice). I have nothing to do with Egypt. I even wrote a post recently caning Cairo, although in my defense, the issues I had with it could easily be blamed on the government not the people. So how can I know what people are doing and saying in Tahrir Square almost before it happens?

Because when six degrees of separation is digital, there is NO physical separation – my friends, their friends, and the rest of the world live between the tip of my finger and the screen of my iPhone. I am living the revolution through people like @sandmonkey, @waelabbas and @zeinobia without actually even following them – I see their tweets retweeted (RT) by those I do follow, and the tweets I find interesting, I can “RT” myself. I was there when the crowds were thickest, when rocks started flying, and when sandmonkey got arrested. It’s hard not to feel involved, and even harder not to form an opinion. And sometimes as I have lain in bed doing my last nightly flick through the recent tweets, I have found myself in tears, and my ragged soul has dragged me to my knees to pray for them to receive what I take for granted.

I ask myself – would I know or even care so much if I wasn’t on Twitter, or even living in the region? I accept that because I follow several people in Dubai, some of them are from the Gulf and greater Arabian region, and so therefore there is a strong weighting on issues that occur here. I do not imagine that many of my friends back in Melbourne would have got into the Egyptian loop so quickly. Or would they?

As distinct from Facebook, subjects on Twitter are more accessable. Sure, anyone can load a Facebook page, they can make it a public one, and then anyone can access it, you can even write on the “Wall” if you “Like” the page. However, Twitter can bring any topic into any conversation with just a hash-tag (#). Whether you like it or not, if you look down your Twitter updates list today, you will find either #Egypt, or #Jan25 in there. And all you have to do to find out what everybody in the world is saying about it is click on it, and all you have to do to join the conversation is to add it in your own message. This links you not only with your friends or followers, but EVERYONE on Twitter who has hash-tagged that topic.

This week the # is a serious one, but assuming this will be over soon, we will again find things like #FF (follow Friday), #UAEWeather, #motherinlaw and #spongebob. And I do hope it is over soon, but I can’t see that happening in a hurry. This is a different revolution. It is not 100% physical, and this changes everything. People will not tire – they will leave Tahrir Square to go home and rest, but they will keep up with events via the social networks, and return recharged, because the voice that they hear is not getting any softer – only now are we beginning to see the magnitude of the support behind the people on the ground, and this support, though digital, will continue to fuel them. I feel doubly for these people, because they will be pushed harder than any other revolutionaries – the whole world is watching, even 14 year old American Justin Beiber fans.

The social networks have made this a world-wide revolution, not just one for the Egyptian people, and many other countries are rising up, showing not only their support for Egypt, but their support for the ideals of this brave crowd of people, and the common desire for a better life, where everybody has a voice. This started in Tunisia, and is only getting bigger – there have been ripples reaching Jordan, Yemen, Syria, and there is even talk of what may happen in Saudi Arabia. Because with the increase in the use of social networks, everybody can have a voice, and the paths to silence us are fewer. (but don’t say that to @mark248am regarding #BenihanaKUW)

PS.
Some tips from the one who has learned the hard way:
The start to using Twitter can be a slow one if you approach it like Facebook. Firstly, this is not about “friends”, but about “followers”, and they are entirely different things. Saying that, secondly, Twitter is not about followers, it’s about following – for the start, anyway. And sure, you follow a few people, and they follow you back, and then you get some spammers, then some porn seekers, and eventually you find that you have some legitimate people who actually read what you say. In fact, if you have a website, sometimes they even go to it to find out what you can say in more than 140 characters (probably to their great disappointment in many cases). But the wonderful thing about Twitter is the connectivity to the rest of the world. Join in and feel the pulse of humanity.
PPS.
I don’t work for Twitter

8 Comments

  1. Excellent post, again!!! Great to have you on Twitter!

  2. Social networks have certainly made their contribution to the global awareness of situations like what's going on in Egypt, haven't they?

  3. So smart. I love twitter for this very reason. It allows "everybody has a voice."

  4. I've never quite gotten the hang of Twitter, but after reading this, perhaps shall give it another go!

  5. Twitter has seemed a world away from me and something I just never wanted to know about, but you have managed to explain it in such a way that at least I now understand it and see that it has some value. I can't say that at the age of 70 I will be trying it, but at least I won't be dismissing it as another unnecessary form of communication. I can now see that it is different.

  6. Despite all touted benefits I still don't get twitter. I personally don't feel encouraged to 'tweet' as I get the urge to blog, and most of my feeds are now so cluttered it's useless. It seems like everyone is saying the same thing.

  7. What a well articulated argument, I was never an avid fan of twitter but now with the events unfolding I would like to follow the crowd talking about Egypt .

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