Did the 21st century really start now?

Another hectic week, and the last few days were an emotional roller-coaster as I covered the events in Egypt – from a distance, immersing myself in social media.

So, is this a Twitter or a Facebook-revolution? I don’t think it makes much sense to put it that way. This revolution is the result of having a large population of young people, a lot of them well-educated and used to social media but underemployed, having no real future in Egypt and realizing how corrupt the system is.

Twitter and Facebook are being used, but combined with audiovisual media (think Al Jazeera), blogs, live blogs, dumb phones and smartphones etc.

However, it’s the horizontal nature of the protests which is fascinating. The web allows us to communicate up and down, and also horizontally – with our peers. The real power is in this horizontal communication. The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia had no charismatic leaders who were telling their followers what to do. That made it very hard for the regimes to defeat the protesters. Could it be that the 21st century – the age of participation, The Great Horizontal – started a few weeks ago in the Arab world?

Here you can watch Wael Ghonim (a Google manager who participated in the uprising) talking about the revolution and the web:

Read also Terry Heaton’s PoMo Blog, Living History, After Tunisia and Egypt: towards a new typology of media and networked by political change by Charlie Beckett and on this blog The murmuration in the Arab world.

The murmuration in the Arab World

Back to blogging on MixedRealities. I’ve been very busy covering Egypt for my other blog (Dutch language) at the newspaper. I used Storify to integrate blog and twitter content, for instance here for the March of a Million. I also went to Geneva, Switzerland, for the LIFT conference “what can the future do for you.” I did send out a few tweets about the conference, but I felt I needed time to think it all over. In the next few days I’ll post about some remarkable presentations and conversations.

Let me start with Egypt again.

Don Tapscott
specializes in business strategy, organizational transformation and the role of technology in business and society. His fourteenth book is Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World, co-authored by Anthony D. Williams.

At the LIFT conference he showed us this video, about the “murmuration”:

The murmuration seems to protect the birds against predators such as the hawk in the video. It’s also a way to exchange information. It’s an impressive image of self-organization with shifting leaders.

The image also seems to describe the self-organization of the protesters in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. Don Tapscott said that there is a revolution in revolutions. There is no party or charismatic leader to command the revolutionaries. There is a tsunami of digital natives (not in Japan or Europe though because of the demographics) and quite a lot of those digital natives seem to be very upset about what the old leaders in their countries are doing or failing to do.

“Change is sweeping though the Middle East and it’s the Facebook generation that has kickstarted it”, Mona Eltahawy said in the Guardian. The new generation dares to say “I count”:

Most of the people in the Arab world are aged 25 or are younger. They have known no other leaders than those dictators who grew older and richer as the young saw their opportunities – political and economic – dwindle. The internet didn’t invent courage; activists in Egypt have exposed Mubarak’s police state of torture and jailings for years. And we’ve seen that even when the dictator shuts the internet down protesters can still organise. Along with making “I” count, social media allowed activists to connect with ordinary people and form the kind of alliances that we’re seeing on the streets of Egypt where protesters come from every age and background. Youth kickstarted the revolt, but they’ve been joined by old and young.

The internet technologist and journalist Ben Hammersley also mentioned Egypt at LIFT:

Over the past few days and years you will have seen the same bewildered look on old people’s faces. Hosni Mubarak, a Swiss industrialist that has just seen the internet, a media mogul whose empire has imploded.

Those same bewildered looks are shared by world leaders who are supposed to be leading the way to the future but don’t have a freaking clue about the present.

(using Mark Littlewood’s report on The Business Leaders Network)

The video of the presentation by Ben Hammersley:

Those speakers do not claim that we’re witnessing Twitter revolutions in the Arab world. What they say is that old people’s worldview is focused on distance and hierachical organization while young people – digital natives – have networks, and sheets of interest. Of course, there is a generation in-between, and Hammersley suggests that those in-between should translate the new visions of the young for the old guard.

Kansas to Cairo: vanishing cultural differences, or rather avoiding stereotypes?

If there is one thing which seems to be perfectly suited for collaboration and research in a world such as Second Life, it seems to be architecture. If such a project also involves geographically dispersed teams, education, and different cultures, it really becomes a fascinating challenge.

Students from Cairo and Los Angeles used Second Life to design a large open space situated between the Grand Egyptian Museum and the Pyramids of Giza. They had never met in the physical world, using their avatars and lots of other social media to communicate, collaborate and successfully complete the difficult task of creating sustainable urban design solutions while overcoming cultural boundaries. More about this project can be found on ArchVirtual.

Draxtor Despres made a news machinima in three parts about the project (the third part is in the making). One of the things which seems very interesting is a commentary in the video about the fact that people leave their identities behind when they enter Second Life. It’s a bit like leaving your country and becoming a citizen of another country, in this case a virtual one. Of course, one of the questions here is whether Second Life in itself is reflecting certain values, or whether it is value-neutral – being a place for very different cultures – or is precisely that diversity such an ‘American’ value?

It should come as no surprise that public diplomacy experts are interested – to put it bluntly, it provides a way to make American and foreign students work together and to spread certain values, while avoiding discussions about real world immigration issues.

A participant said the interaction was not hampered by external differences (people are like ‘color blind’, people ‘project their inner self’ in their avatar…) and that avatars reflect the inner qualities of people – and guess what, we’re all human beings and not that very different. At the same time though, cultural differences were being discussed regarding the architectural work itself. So it’s not really that there were no longer social and cultural differences – but I guess the virtual environment made it possible to have those discussions while avoiding stereotypes.

Here is part II of The Kansas To Cairo Project: