When Twitter hit the scene a few years ago Silicon Valley and the rest of the high-tech world were quick to call it “a disruptive technology”. It would alter the way we communicate, change the standards of e-commerce and revolutionize the manner in which humans process information. Even though only 11% of Internet users subscribe to the service today, the tweeting world, with its strange terminology, hash tags, @ signs, shortened links and cultish followings has largely become the “disruptive technology” people envisioned.
Having shut down his country’s Internet, Hosni Mubarack seems like he would agree with the moniker as well—albeit for different reasons.
Let me be the seven millionth person to write that tracking the events unfolding in Egypt via Twitter has been fascinating. If you’ve been looking for a reason to try the service, the 140 character micro-blog was taylor-made for exactly this. You get unfiltered, first-hand accounts of protests in Tahir square from Pulitzer Prize journalists like Nicolas Kristof all the way to regular Egyptian citizens trying to effect positive (and negative) change.
We’ve seen that revolution needs exactly two ingredients: a reason and an information exchange. The reason—after almost thirty years of the same president—was obvious, and now Tom Friedman’s dream of the world becoming flat has taken one more giant step. The oppressed have seen the ways of freedom (in neighboring Tunisia) and have demanded it for themselves. They’ve taken to the streets and pulled their dictator’s fingers from the levers of power.
These are all wonderful forms of progress (and you knew this was coming), but if the Internet can tear down a house of cards, can it rebuild one of something a little stronger? The wired legions have no doubt disrupted Tunisia and Egypt and sent their nations into a healthy turmoil, but can they use their tools as a “constructive technology” when the dust settles? We know if we’ve been around children (And I’m not equating Egyptians to children. Just an analogy.), it is startlingly easy to make a mess, but it can be incredibly arduous to clean one up—properly.
This will be the real test of Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the online universe’s social worth. Are they vehicles of disruptive progress or are they simply vehicles of disruption? Do they only destroy walls or can they rebuild them as well?
Follow Caleb at www.twitter.com/calebgarling
Caleb Garling lives in San Francisco and wrote the book The St George’s Angling Club, available at