This is just a quick blog post getting my thoughts out on the current events going on with Iran. Social scientists have come down hard in the blogosphere, over the hype about twitter. They've made sound arguments, particularly of how hype spreads like wildfire (Twitter revolution! and all of that). And I believe they are right. Twitter was not instrumental in the Iranian revolution, but at the same time, the revolution made Twitter instrumental for us to learn about it. In other words, I'm thinking the vast upsurge and use of Twitter helped us keep informed as to what was going on. I've been following the hash tags, "iranelection" and "anthropology," and there has been a lot of useless chattering "Twitter is awesome!" (See the Open Anthro blog
for a good article about this), but there also has been links I found useful. Updates, information, current events. In other words, decent coverage.
Now, this all has less to do with Iran and more to do with how we informed ourselves about the revolution. More about us than them. That's the critical point... Twitter isn't
instrumental in this revolution, but it's been great for helping us become informed about it. I know I learned quite a bit from twitter updates, or other mediums (Reddit, Youtube, etc). Social media can help news spread like wildfire, if it can come about at the right place and time.
That being said, it's not perfect. There are other moments in politics where no coverage was done, Twitter wasn't used, and that raises certain hypocritical issues, and begs the question whether or not all of this is hype and feel-good-revolutionary Western memes. That's true. But, I've seen these things happen in smaller ways in the past. Take Reddit, for example. They have covered a decent amount of world wide political activity (albeit not perfectly, again subject to mass hype).
As a social scientist, I whole heartedly agree we should be the first to raise skepticism and anchor our desire for these ideas (internet revolutions, power to the masses, etc) not cloud our analysis of what's really going on.
That being said, we've raised doubts as to how effective twitter was in helping them, but turning this analysis on ourselves, it says to things I've noticed:
1) What many social scientists have pointed out: It's a lot of hype, a lot of feel good revolutionary ideals. Social media idealists, mass hysteria.
2) The dangers of relying on social media to broadcast news: unconfirmed, and for the most part most people don't broadcast news (Twitter was on the decline before Iran events). A lot of chatter, little valuable information.
3) The emergence of new technology to enhance our own communication with each other and with the world. In reality, this doesn't make "twitter revolutions," but definitely is helping us communicate within our own countries. The information age might be undergoing a real phenomenon, not one in which US citizens, now empowered social media folk, can be instrumental in foreign revolutions. That sounds like a case of narcissism if I've heard heard one. No, it's helping our own infrastructure, our own social sphere, transform. That's where the hype, I believe, is accurate.
But 3 is often the least focused on (at least from my experience here) only because, it seems, of our focus on skepticism and criticalness of hype. But, as a general question to social scientists: would it be ok to be an enthusiast without gaining the connotation of an idealist? I think the social media thing is remarkable, but yet I agree with a lot of skepticism. Though, I think there is plenty of potential for us to be both skeptical and harness the potential for social media technology to really flesh out the possibilities we do have.
I mean, Open Anthropology is itself, I think, only backing up evidence of point #3
. That in the West (and beyond, now), it's a growing tool for collaboration and information/communication exchange. This is a new phenomenon, it has its ups and downs. And we as social scientists are familiar with those: hysteria, hype, idealism, etc. Its a virtual space to communicate, but humans are at the other end of the computers, so of course twitter and other technologies are not perfect. At any rate, I guess this whole thing is just a mixture of ideas and reflections about recent events.
I study as a focus the impact of technology has on structures of society and social interaction. So these ideas are always bubbling up in my head. One thing I've noticed is social media has been evolving to become more organic and complex, reflecting more and more the way we are in reality. It's like the internet is becoming embedded in our society, surely that will have a significant impact.
At any rate, please feel free to critique and comment. I'd really like to hear input on what other social scientists think of the world we're living in, and the new forms of social communication.
Thanks for hearing me out...