The Social Catalyst

November 22, 2011
What if a digital social network had been available during the American Revolution? How much shorter would the Revolution have been? How many lives would have been saved? “Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride” would have been “Paul Revere’s Midnight Tweet.” The Sons of Liberty would have been a Facebook Group, #NoTaxationWithoutRepresentation a trending topic. There is no way to determine the exact reduction in length or outcome of the American Revolution given the presence of a digital social network, but it would have had an obvious impact. Consider the recent revolution in Egypt had the rebels not had access to social networks. The revolution would certainly still have happened but the rate at which it did would decrease. Because of social networks like Twitter and Facebook, those at the frontlines of the revolution were able to have their individual voices heard by people across the world. The inclusion of the global community in this struggle ultimately resulted in quicker responses from foreign aid and pressure on the then current regime to step down.
During the Egyptian revolution and the ensuing revolutions in Libya and Syria, social networks served many roles. Social networks helped protestors communicate with one another and were often the only way news would be sent from the protests, which in many cases were also battlefields. Referring to protests in the Middle East in a recent article in The Economist, Jared Cohen states, “Technology [digital social networks] is definitely serving as an accelerant” (qtd. in “Here Comes Anyware” 20). Cohen’s assessment of technology’s (digital social networks’) role is accurate and precise. While social networks have influenced large-scale social changes in many ways, they certainly are not the reason for the transformations. Social changes with the magnitude of the revolutions in the Middle East are a result of years of socio-political conflict and negligence. Even with this limitation, social networks remain a very powerful tool. As digital social networks become more accessible, the amount of time it takes for noticeable change in societies to occur will decrease along with it. Right now we are currently speeding into an unknown future on the wave of technology, and the influence of this wave’s wake is becoming more apparent every day. With an uncertain path ahead, how can we determine whether this constant turbulence will progress society or destroy it?
Transparency is a word not often associated with American politics. Until now. The “media is the 4th branch” metaphor is rapidly becoming a greater reality with the presence of digital social networks. Simultaneously, the American government’s famous assertion that the power lies with the people is also quickly approaching authenticity. It is impossible for a politician or statesperson to retain their office without entering the realm of social networks. Their entrance comes with an extremely high price, transparency. Any interaction in a digital environment can be and usually is recorded, which raises the moral standards to which politicians are held. Published in the technology section of The New Zealand Herald, the article “Obama Embraces Facebook Soapbox” addresses American politicians’ involvement in digital social networks: “These new versions of the traditional town hall give politicians the opportunity to appear as if they are interacting with public in a more unfiltered way.” Aside from professional use, our elected officials also engage in personal use of social networks, increasing the importance of caution in a digital environment. Caution for them, truth for us.
Any doubt about the power of social networks can be diffused through assessing their presence and use around the world. Facebook does not exist in China. The largest population on the planet does not have access to the largest social network in the world. Why? A social network, with international access, would introduce ideas that challenge the authority of the government by exposing users to different forms of entertainment and varying ideologies. In a state firmly rooted in the foundations of totalitarianism, a social network would empower the citizens. The effects of social networks can be identified through their presence and also the lack thereof.
Entertainment, educational tool, accelerant for change. Social networks are what the users make of them. A characteristic of social networks that supersedes all three is their ability to evolve. And evolve constantly. Past the fundamental operations of a social network exist capabilities that have yet to be invented or are just now slowly taking shape. The massive fields of servers that support those networks are storing more than just conversations and pictures. Social networking is a constant flow of information that grows at an increasing rate every day. Thoughts turn into data. Data travels through the network. That network enables a movement. And that movement can change the world. The process has been the same for thousands of years but the time it takes to communicate these ideas with one another has been virtually streamlined into non-existence.





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IntrepidRose This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 30, 2011 at 8:09 am
A thought provoking piece to read. Thanks for writing it. I like the humor in the first bit.
 
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