Just When I’d Concluded that Twitter is Utterly Banal (Not that there is anything wrong with that)

March 31st, 2008

Moira Gunn’s Tech Nation podcast covers a lot of ground and has some great interviews. One of the most interesting I have heard in a long time was with NYU professor Clay Shirky, who wrote a recent book on social media.

The best part of the interview was where he talked about the use of social web tools for political purposes. Starting with a reminder that Chinese students used fax machines in 1989 to obtain Western reports on the Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown, he went on to discuss several examples of social media being used to record things that matter to the world- as opposed to everyday events that matter to specific individuals. My favorites:

* A flash mob convened in October Square, Minsk, Belarus in May 2006 (in Belarussian(?) with lots of pictures) to eat ice cream. Mass gatherings in October Square are illegal and security forces monitor the same social networks as the activists, so plainclothes police were ready and arrested a number of participants. Photos document the entire episode, including the arrests.

*Twitter used by Egyptian activists to let the community know their whereabouts, esp. whether they have been arrested. Shirky pointed out that when the fact of a person’s arrest is widely known, the likelihood that the person will be seen again increases dramatically. In this case, Alaa was able to Twitter the circumstances of his detention from his mobile phone.

Shirky opines that tools like Twitter and SMS mean that connectivity is an all-or-nothing proposition for repressive governments. I don’t think he has it quite right- China and other countries manage to screen web sites effectively. The point is well taken, though- lightweight communication tools can find ways through the walls. This is really inspirational stuff.

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  • lewis

    there is also a really interesting conversation between shirky and daniel goleman (author of emotional intelligence) called socially intelligent computing. there are free audio samples available at http://www.morethansound.net . I really do think it's worth a listen.

  • I just checked this out. Very interesting. Shirky is my new favorite web sage. Thanks for the tip.

  • I just checked this out. Very interesting. Shirky is my new favorite web sage. Thanks for the tip.