Give Me Liberty or Give Me Twitter
As a lifelong publisher and professional advocate of the written word, and also as a futurist of digital communications, I am in awe of the global circumstances we now see happening right before our media eyes. As I write this editorial two despots have fallen in as many months, and two—possibly three—more seem to be on the edge of dismissal by their people. How did this happen in such rapidity?
I have mentioned here many times before my fascination with our own revolution of 1776. I have read everything I can find on the subject. It too was a revolution to overthrow a tyrant. Several times in our own 1776 crisis it was a communications tool that in a strange way "saved" the day. There were no blogs, no Internet, no BoSacks-Heard on the Web, nor any sophisticated mass communication tools at the time. But what they did have then, I think could be construed as the equivalent of the blogs of today. Certainty the results are easily comparable.
They used a printed product called pamphlets. These pamphlets acted much the same way as blogs have done today in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. They informed, educated and rallied the American people to make a radical change in their government.
Wikipedia suggests that pamphleteer Thomas Paine has been named by some scholars the Father of the American Revolution because of his authorship of Common Sense, the pro-independence pamphlet that he published on January 10, 1776. It became an immediate success throughout the 13 colonies. "It quickly spread among the literate, and, in three months, over 100,000 copies sold throughout the American British colonies (with only two million free inhabitants) making it a best-selling work in eighteenth-century America."
Common Sense appeared after the Revolution had started but was instrumental to its success. It was passed around, and often read aloud in taverns, contributing significantly to spreading the idea of republicanism, bolstering an enthusiasm for separation from Britain, and encouraging recruitment for the Continental Army. Common Sense was focused on the future and it compelled the reader to make an immediate and hard choice.
Part of Paine's genius was to render complex ideas intelligible to the average readers of the day. So, perhaps he was the first blogger, taking complex political ideas of the day, making them easy to understand and sharing those thoughts with everyone, everywhere. That is what is happening now in Libya and elsewhere. The people have been empowered by their ability to "know" what is happening everywhere. And they know because of the interconnectedness of the news and the total availability of being connected with each other.
Not only the success of the Egyptian revolution, but also the ability for it to be broadcast as it happens, live on the Internet, through the use of cell phones and Twitter, does seem to suggest that freedom from tyrants is an achievable goal for anyone. At least, I hope so.
We are living through amazing times, and whatever happens on a global scale, we here in the media are connected to the world and its news as never before in the history of mankind. By the public's use of Twitter, Facebook and the Internet we instantly know the pulse of a people we never met, half a world away.
Most of my readers have all been in the communication business a long time and our business has proven to increasingly be a very powerful tool, the likes of which is still in early development. Twitter is just a few years old, and the next big thing will only increase and empower the distribution of information even further. There is just no end to the possibilities.