Published on January 14th, 2011 | by Jim Lobe4
Consider Me the Wrench and Technological Revolutions: Political Change in the WikiLeaks Age
That big heading up there says “LobeLog. Foreign Policy. Jim Lobe & Friends” — a misnomer, I argued to Eli the other day, because, really, looking at the first page alone, it should be “LobeLog. Iran Policy. Jim Lobe’s Son-Graduates of the IPS Washington, D.C. Bureau.”
I’m not necessarily in the habit of lobbing construction tools, but consider me and my interjections of estrogen and non-Iran-related musings the wrench in this cyber mix.
So, how to begin this inaugural post? With the eponymous, of course: Jim Lobe.
“It’s all because of your damned Internet,” he told me yesterday. I can’t recall to what he was referring when he said this — no doubt he was lamenting the disappearance of some facet of a fast-going print age — but I suppose it could be anything, really.
He doesn’t tweet, doesn’t have a Facebook account (but he has seen the Social Network — I haven’t even seen the Social Network) and he still cuts out, saves and uses actual, hard-copy newspaper clippings.
But even Jim, a self-professed technophobe, is indispensed to technological accoutrements.
He uses Skype to strategize with Eli in New York and to carp at the IPS editors based abroad. He watches live feeds of briefings held elsewhere so that he can openly mock the panelists from the comfort of his well-worn office chair — well, maybe that’s not why he follows webcasts, but it’s certainly a perk. And he has not one, but two desktop monitors.
The Frontline Club hosted a fascinating discussion this week with a few prominent members of the British mainstream media about the impact of WikiLeaks on journalism today (incidentally, I used two WikiLeaks cables in my latest article). Among the panel was Ian Katz of the Guardian, the newspaper which, as this new Vanity Fair piece shows, first consummated the media-WikiLeaks marriage.
A couple of weeks ago, the Council of Foreign Relations was asking the same question as the London group: Is this new technology changing how the news is made and communicated, and if so, how?
A few years ago, that question was being asked of Twitter and blogs. A couple decades ago, it was the Internet in general. Over half a century ago, it was television, and before that, radio.
In parallel paradigmatic debates, the questions circled around the economic, social and political effects of these information technologies (shout-out to UCSD! – and James Fowler and Dan Hallin, former professors).
I doubt that Jim is a technological determinist in the vein of Marshall McLuhan or Harrold Innis. It’s not all because of my, your, our, this damned Internet.
This damned Internet grew out of economic, social, political — in fact, military — needs, Lelia Green would argue. But now, does it create new ones? Chicken or egg?
I’ll leave the answers to the likes of Manuel Castells and the folks at Berkman, although social science’s favorite answer — and the easy way out — is often “both.”
Elizabeth Dickerson of Foreign Policy proposed yesterday that Tunisia might well be the first “WikiLeaks revolution.” She writes:
As in the recent so-called “Twitter Revolutions” in Moldova and Iran, there was clearly lots wrong with Tunisia before Julian Assange ever got hold of the diplomatic cables. Rather, WikiLeaks acted as a catalyst: both a trigger and a tool for political outcry.
For Clay Shirky, writing in the latest Foreign Affairs about technology, the public sphere and political change, it doesn’t matter whether or not technology is actually, definitively a trigger, just that it’s perceived to be:
Indeed, the best practical reason to think that social media can help bring political change is that both dissidents and governments think they can. All over the world, activists believe in the utility of these tools and take steps to use them accordingly. And the governments they contend with think social media tools are powerful, too, and are willing to harass, arrest, exile, or kill users in response.
This morning, I listened to Cote D’Ivoire’s president-elect Ouattara address a U.S. audience for the first time via teleconference at the Center for Strategic International Studies. Holed up in his UNOCI-protected stronghold in Abidjan, he said the Golf Hotel was “very nice.”
In between taking dutiful notes about Ouattara’s love for democracy (as a product of Western upbringing and education) and his vision for a democratic country — and continent — I followed breaking updates of his northern neighbor’s spiral into crisis here, here and here.
A sample, from Dima Khatib, Al-Jazeera correspondent:
CONFIRMED by Tunisians tweeting; STATE TV in Tunisian has been taken over by journalists calling for revolt #SidibouzidBREAKING: President Ben Ali just announced he is sacking his entire government.. Calls for early elections within 6 months #sidibouzidClashes are terrible on streets of capital Tunis RIGHT NOW. TERRIBLE.. #sidibouzid#SidiBouzid #Tunisia Ben Ali has left the country but some of his family members are being arrested at airport while trying to flee
The revolution is live.
What’s next?… This damned technophile is on the edge of her keyboard.
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