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Posted by on Jun 21, 2009 in International, Media, Places, Politics, Science & Technology, Society | 2 comments

Tweeting from “the Barricades” in Iran


I don’t tweet, nor do I know much about Twitting.

At my age, when I can’t even “Blackberry,” or “iPhone”, or “iPod,” or even “iPod-Touch,” (or whatever the name is of the latest gadget that my 9-year-old grandson so masterfully “operates”), why should I venture into even more iNcomprehensible technological territory.

So, a couple of weeks ago, when Time Magazine’s cover story was all about Twitter and “How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live,” for the first time as far as I can remember, I did the unthinkable, I skipped Time’s cover article.

As we so often react to things we don’t understand or don’t want to accept, I considered the Twitter phenomenon just another temporary fad, totally overblown and over-hyped—just one more technological and “social networking” oversell.

And, lo and behold, the reactions of Time readers in this week’s “Inbox” section would have fully corroborated my suspicions.

All four letters to the editor on the Twitter subject were dismissive, skeptical or even downright deprecatory of Twitter and tweeting.

One reader even predicted that the “twitterification of our society is going to lead to an exponential increase in early-onset Alzheimer’s,” and that this, in turn, “will lead to the next big industry: de-twitterification rooms where you can sit alone and unconnected, with nothing but a giant aquarium and a beanbag.”

Note that I used the verb “would,” because something happened in between the publication of Steven Johnson’s article a couple of weeks ago and this week’s edition of Time.

That something, of course, is the uprising in Iran, already called by many the “Twitter Revolution.”

Twitter, or this so-called “social networking,” has been a crucial tool to get the “message” out of Iran, as the Iranian regime does everything in its power to prevent the world from seeing and hearing what is taking place in the streets of Teheran, Shiraz and elsewhere.

The New York Times today, in “Twitter on the Barricades: Six Lessons Learned”:

Social networking, a distinctly 21st-century phenomenon, has already been credited with aiding protests from the Republic of Georgia to Egypt to Iceland. And Twitter, the newest social-networking tool, has been identified with two mass protests in a matter of months — in Moldova in April and in Iran last week, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to oppose the official results of the presidential election.

The Washington Post earlier this week:

The State Department asked social-networking site Twitter to delay scheduled maintenance earlier this week to avoid disrupting communications among tech-savvy Iranian citizens as they took to the streets to protest Friday’s reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Arianna Huffington in her Sunday Roundup:

Social networking, often derided as the public preening of people with too much time on their hands, has been transformed into an indispensable tool for organizing and keeping the world informed. You know that journalism’s tectonic plates have shifted when the State Department is asking Twitter to postpone shutting down for scheduled repairs so that the on-the-ground citizen reporting coming out of Iran could continue uninterrupted.

This week’s Time Magazine:

It is either sublime or ridiculous that one of the most important tools available to Iranians protesting the June 12 presidential election is Twitter… Twitter is basically a toy for flirting and telling people what your cat is doing. But in one of the Internet’s great Velveteen Rabbit moments, the toy has become real.

Perhaps, Andrew Sullivan said it best:

As I have spent the past week hunched over a laptop, channeling and broadcasting as much information, video and debate about the momentous events in Iran, nothing quite captured the mood and pace of events like the tweets coming from the people of Iran.

With internet speed deliberately slowed to a crawl by the Iranian authorities, brevity and simplicity were essential. To communicate, they tweeted. Within hours of the farcical election result, I tracked down a bunch of live Twitter feeds and started to edit and rebroadcast them as a stream of human consciousness on the verge of revolution.

The misspelling, the range of punctuation, the immediacy: it was like overhearing snatches of discourse from police radio. Or it was like reading a million little telegram messages being beamed out like an SOS to the world. Within seconds I could transcribe and broadcast them to hundreds of thousands more.

As I did so, it was impossible not to feel connected to the people on the streets, especially the younger generation, with their blogs and tweets and Facebook messages – all instantly familiar to westerners in a way that would have been unthinkable a decade or so ago. This new medium ripped the veil off “the other” and we began to see them as ourselves.

I don’t know where this media revolution is headed any more than I know where the Iranian uprising is headed. What I do know is that something changed last week – something we will not forget and that will transform the way we cover and consume breaking news.

Of course, the Tweeter Revolution has its critics: Tweeter and twitting are vulnerable to rumors, “decoy tweets,” disinformation, chaos, subjectivity, lack of verification, etc.

The New York Times in its “Twitter on the Barricades: Six Lessons Learned,” covers some of these weaknesses, but also some of the strengths of a “technology that is less than three years old and is experiencing explosive growth.”

Finally, as Time puts it:

“It’s tempting to look at Twitter and see a magic anti-dictator bullet, a medium so anarchic and distributed that it can’t be stopped. It’s not impervious; the Iranian government has already moved to limit access.” But, Time adds, “Twitter has done its work. The protesters know they aren’t alone, and Ahmadinejad now faces judgment not only in Iran but also in the court of world opinion.”

I know my opinion of Twitter has significantly changed these past few days.

Whether I’ll start tweeting myself, however, is still an open question.

Twitter Image Courtesy Twitter