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The impact of 140 characters or less

A few weeks ago, I started writing a near-future science fiction story that explores what might become of Ushahidi and crisis reports via text messaging in the years to come.

A few days ago, I started seeing parts of my story unfold before my eyes every time I refreshed my Twitter account.

Twitter's not just a toy. It's a tool.

I live in the United States, where it is generally safe to have opinions, even loud ones, even unpopular ones, simply because you’re a human being and here we consider that a right. It means that when I see people’s opinions being ignored, crushed, or brutally silenced, I’m angry. And I’m five feet tall and my grandma can benchpress me, so what would I do about it?

Years ago, I could travel to the location of injustice and try to help with my hands–costly and dangerous, and I could never travel everywhere. I could petition my government to get involved. I could peacefully protest to encourage my fellow citizens to help with the petition. Or I could pray, which I’m sure has its internal uses, but frankly, I’m not convinced it has any immediate external power.

But the world has shifted, while and because we’ve been building technological toys for ourselves. We’ve accomplished powerful handheld computer/phones. We can instant message friends, play Tetris, download music, take pictures and shoot video. They’re pretty fun! And with Twitter, and later with Ushahidi (mark my words! and my fiction!), they’re going to change the world.

The streams in which our daily activities flow have shifted, subtly at first, but they’re beginning to pour into rivers, and those rivers are heavy with potential, heavy enough to carve canyons into the way things were. People are connecting, networking, coordinating, and preserving, and they’re using these Tetris-playing, photo-taking toys to obtain an audience.

As long as you have a phone, there is no longer revisionist history to erase your voice, to stomp out who you are and what you stand for and what you do about it. The Internet collects your Tweets, your blog posts, your YouTube videos. The Wayback Machine saves them for sweet eternity. You are immortal. If you have a phone and you’re close enough to a cell tower, you cannot be erased. You can die, but how many of us can suffer and die from one entity before the rest of the world will feel threatened by that entity and bitchslap its in its vile face? That is where this can go. Right now, injustice can be reported in real-time; some day, we can fight it in real-time.

The terrible things man does to man will never disappear, but we’re fumbling with a new way to fight it. Activism is as simple as changing the settings on your Twitter account to say you live in Tehran. It’s as simple as sharing this link:

Iran Election Cyberwar Guide for Beginners

…and letting other people decide whether or not they want to be a part of history. I hope you do.  I am.

Edit: If you don't understand what's going on, velveteen wrote a great summary right here.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 17th, 2009 11:31 am (UTC)
You are so so awesome for posting this!
Jun. 17th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC)
Immortal? Don't let the folks on Tweeting Too Hard find out. They might become even more insufferable.

Jun. 17th, 2009 11:04 pm (UTC)
OK, I'm persuaded. I'm going to give up my insecure avoidance of twitter and dive in. Thanks for the post.
Jul. 12th, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
these reminded me of you
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )