The Revolution will be Tweeted… So What.

The internet facilitates a lot of amazing things.  It allows you to read my words, have an unlimited jukebox at YouTube, trade epic Rage Comics, LOLCats, p0wn newbz on XBox Live, and watch awesome viral marketing ads like this (rated R).  It has changed social interaction, as it has significantly reduced the tyranny of distance.  Though, what hasn’t changed are a lot of the things you’ll find outside your window, or how humans inherently treat power once they have it.

Roundabouts are a good analogy for what the internet can and cannot do. Mostly uncommon in the States, I had very little practice with them prior to moving to Europe. At first the merging methodology of roundabouts befuddled me, and I didn’t much care for them.  Now with six months of practice under my belt, I wish we had more of them in the States, they’re simply brilliant and better than ‘normal’ intersections.  Realizing this, I asked myself why, with the power of the internet to exchange ideas; why hasn’t the notion (or meme) of roundabouts caught on in the States?  The answer I come to is that while the internet can expose a person to ideas, it doesn’t change the cognitive patter of the individual enough to change behavior, that there is an environmental component to any behavioral change.  To me this is the waterline, where the power of the internet ends.

The power of the internet is the memes that move across it.  I don’t just mean LOLCats, or anything concocted by the trolls at 4Chan.  I mean that everything you see online is a meme or a meta-meme.  The roundabout meme cannot make a person adapt to roundabouts in real life any easier.  The person has to physically experience a roundabout to adapt and even appreciate it.

This fact seems largely lost on most people who make their living with Social Media, as well as give a false sense of ‘this time it’s different’ in geopolitics.

CAIRO — Egypt will not allow international groups to monitor its upcoming parliamentary election, the country’s military rulers announced Wednesday, echoing ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s argument that foreign electoral oversight would be an affront to Egyptian sovereignty.

Yes, the Arab Spring used the internet and Social Media to spread the sense of revolution and motivate people to take to the streets.  But, it hasn’t changed the basic human paradigm of what it is to hold power and what it takes to change who holds power.  This is the internet’s waterline in terms of the Arab Spring.

Am I saying that the hopes of many in regards to the Arab Spring are foolish?  No, I am not.  What I am saying is that the internet will not change the behavior of those in power alone.   Behavior is as much a function of one’s environment as it is the memes they have been exposed to.  The undue focus that has been paid to Social Media in the Arab Spring neglects the affect that environment has on behavior.  It is not a bold new age we’re in because of the internet and its memes.


7 thoughts on “The Revolution will be Tweeted… So What.

  1. Nope. We got a round-about recently in my town. And the town just south of just installed one as well. They are annoying. And they are slow. Both instances of these intersections were only 2 way stops prior to the installation of round-abouts, so now the main flow of traffic is slowed down. Which actually was the point. The rich neighborhoods adjoining the main road wanted people to slow down. Now people have to slow way down to get pas their little plots. One person died failing to make the turn.

    And more to the point of “efficiency”, I think there is more to be gained in ever more intelligent light controller systems that utilize algorithms and traffic data to expedite travel. I have seen many of these smart systems popping up around town and the light wait times have decreased remarkably without massive infrastructural change.

    No offense, but the enthusiasm you display for round-abouts is a common attribute among people who have just gone to Europe. “Everything is better: the wine, the cheese, the water, the air, the….” Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it a million times.

    • While I’m not interested in a compare-contrast discussion concerning Europe and the US, I will say that there are not very many things I prefer in Europe. I don’t care of cheese that isn’t melted, the water from my tap I can’t drink (it will cause kidney stones), the air… Meh.

      But, my point is that the internet doesn’t change everything through the interaction it allows. Key cultural aspects remain the same in societies, as well how societies chose to organize themselves.

  2. Perhaps those in the West latch on to the social media tools being used in the so-called Arab Spring because that is the only thing they share in common folks in those countries. To be sure, social media has enormous potential, but doesn’t guarantee outcomes, in fact used with dark purpose may obfuscate real motives. William Stafford’s excellent poem, A Ritual to Read to Each Other comes to mind (last stanza, in particular):

    • Scott,

      I’d say we latch on because it is allows something of a pervasive window into the happenings there. It could even be argued that SM is, in fact, a common bond between those observing and those tweeting, posting et al. (especially in that different types of SM attract different types of personalities–Tumblr is full of hipsters, for example (lulz)).

      It has enormous ability today and even more potential for the future. But, it has natural limits in that just because I can talk and interact with anyone via SM, it doesn’t mean that my behavior will necessarily change in the real World.

      I wanted to mention this in the post, but I couldn’t find a nice way to fit the idea in. The idea that information should be based on egalitarian principals, like LulzSec and AntiSec espouse, are inherently flawed because of the dichotomy in human behavior online and IRL. The way the situation is evolving in Egypt is little different than in revolutions before it. In Libya, those who pushed the country to rebellion (the youth) are finding themselves outside of the decision making in the Rebel leadership by those who had more influence and clout in Libya before the Rebellion. SM may have been what instigated the events last Winter. But, it is proving to be little capable of actually determining their outcomes.

      • Lucien, Well said. The world is governed by the agressive use of force, always has been and probably will in the future—social media does allow a level of transparency to allow the oppressed/minorities to share their plight with the world—so there is true potential.

        Two years ago I was dubious about the whole thing and tried social media with the greatest reluctance—I was wrong to wait so long, for the community of people I’ve found, as it were, have made my life richer.

  3. When you enter a traffic circle, you leave America.

    It doesn’t help that traffic circles are inconsistently used in the United States. I’ve encountered 1 pre-1990s traffic circle and 15 post-1990s traffic circles in the city I live in. The appearance of a traffic circle of either type is nearly always a surprise since they are often the only traffic circle within miles and locals are unfamiliar with the newfangled foreign import.

    • What I see traffic circles emblematic of are memes that transcend themselves to become physical things that then shape human behavior, Just as there are memes for governance.

      Memes can propagate wildly when they are limited to nonphysical things like pictures of anthropomorphized animals. Because the meme does not have to manifest itself (display emergent properties) in any way that consumes significant resources to create, nor cause a significant change in human behavior.

      When the meme is concerning something that has relevance in the real World, like roads or government their ability to manifest themselves in the real World is severely limited. I see this limitation caused by the resulting behavioral change demanded by the adoption of the meme (‘old habits die hard’ -or- ‘that’s easier said than done’).

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