“People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented,” the New Yorker’s Malcolm Gladwell opined on February 2. A few weeks later, The Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman reminded us that “the French managed to storm the Bastille without the help of Twitter – and the Bolsheviks took the Winter Palace without pausing to post photos of each other on Facebook.”
True enough — and utterly irrelevant. Those uprisings had a strong assist from contemporary technology too. The Bolshevik revolution would hardly have happened without the telegraphs and trains that spirited Lenin to the Finland station at the right moment. And what would the French revolution have been without the latest high-tech gadget, hot from the workshop of Dr. Joseph Guillotin?
Yes, of course, technology alone doesn’t make revolutions. The will of the people is the most vital ingredient. To ferment revolt, first let their resentment simmer for a few decades. But that doesn’t mean social media cannot provide wavering revolutionaries with vital aid and comfort. Remember the kids being interviewed in Tahir Square the night Mubarak resigned? What struck me most was what they were doing while waiting for the reporter to finish his introduction: thumbing on their smartphones. Want to hazard a guess at the website they were checking?