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Response: Johnson

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In Steven Johnson’s article, How Twitter Will Change the World, the issue of Twitter is addressed, concerning its growing prominence of as a form of not merely social networking, but also with respect to social communication in the broader, more abstract form. Johnson discusses several ideas concerning Twitter, including the general history of its inception, an anecdote on a practical use of the networking platform, a broader discussion of the uses by varying forms of media and users, and a final bit where he waxed poetic about innovation in the United States, and the related successes Twitter has seen.

While Johnson’s story of the Hacking Education conference fell in the middle of his discussion, I would actually reckon this is the most beneficial characteristic of Twitter, as these are the most concrete fashions with which the average person can see fundamental, real-world changes. As Johnson tells, a conversation – both real-time, secondarily, and externally – developed through the conference’s use of the hashtag #hackedu. This feature of Twitter has taken on extraordinary depth in the actual application of Twitter by general users. As Johnson discussed, not only were new ideas and conversations arising within these hashtag discussions, as if in a forum, but the conversation grew outside of the convention (primarily a private engagement), and allowed for a completely free-flowing of information to anyone interested.

This is where we can see real world change with Twitter. The constant flow that Twitter allows brings about a new imperative in the way we as people communicate. And the uses are no more apparent than in Iran.

While it seems like ancient history these days, with the onset of “Arab Spring,” the beginning of these mass movements of dissent against the totalitarian regimes pronounced in the Middle East and north of Africa began in Iran, during the 2009-2010 presidential elections. There was general dispute at the arguably democratic elections being held in Iran, with the victory of the highly unpopular Mahmoud Ahmadinejad despite the widely popular and successful campaigns of his more liberal opponents. Thus, a protest began, and this was a protest of the internet.

Gathering logistical resources via Facebook and Twitter, the Green Revolution began, with hundreds of thousands of people marching into the streets, showing their extreme displeasure for the decision of the Iranian government. Iran responded quickly and decisively, with major police crackdowns throughout the city. To their disadvantage, however, Iranians were using Twitter and Facebook, easily mobile applications that provided heretofore unheard of ability to communicate. No longer were these protests organized in a basement, but instead, in the public sphere, for all eyes to see. Protesters, armed with signs and flags – and most important – cell phones used the internet to their advantage. When police crackdowns came lumbering toward large groups of protests, protestors sent out Twitter updates. These updates were instantly sent to thousands of protesters, who became instantly aware of oncoming police forces, and could quickly flee before the police could attack. Protestors would simply rendezvous in a different location, and the protests could continue.

Furthermore, as mentioned, this was all happening in the eye of the international public. These protests became “trending topics,” engaging the international community with attention to the protestors’ campaign. Stories, photos, and videos of the extremely violent tactics of the Iranian police and military emerged, causing wild outrage throughout the internet, only fueling the flames for this protest. In the end, Iran’s only method of stomping the protest-wildfire out was to completely disconnect Iran from the internet, and cease use of mobile phones. The protests ended in a hush of violence and secrecy, as Iran got their way. Now there are plans to develop an independent Iranian internet, disconnected from the worldwide version. I digress.

Why is this protest so important to the importance of Twitter? Never had such a revolution been orchestrated through a social network. Never has so much of a revolution in a place known for its strict media codes have so much attention. Never until this Iranian protest. Now, looking at rebelling countries involved in the “Arab Spring” – Tunisia, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, and Libya – all of these countries protest and rebel movements began and launched via the use of Twitter. It connected their protests, not only within their own movement, but to the larger movement across the world. We call this “Arab Spring” because while these revolutions are inherently different, they’re also inherently connected, and this is through their application of the internet, especially through the mass spread and sharing of real-time information via Twitter.

This is the world-changing ways that Johnson only began to discuss in his article. To expand onto other topics, he discusses the practicality of Twitter in regards to news, searching, and advertising. A news organization no matter how large, even such as BBC or CNN, or as small as the local television outlet, uses Twitter. It’s a way for them to grasp information on current topics, as well as survey the field for potential news stories. While searching Twitter is difficult, it’s also curiously informative if one gets lucky. Many major news events are quick to rise to a “trending topic” even before an official report comes out on a news outlet, and many topics that don’t receive national/international attention are given their spotlight of discussion, if only for a few hours. Finally, advertising has a new way of accessing their consumers directly via Twitter communication. The ease with which to gauge consumer happiness not longer carries the weight of field trials and surveys, but instead of a quick Tweet.

Finally, Johnson addresses the idea that Twitter is an interesting development because it was so easy as an innovation. Education and patents weren’t necessary processes to the development of Twitter. Instead, it took some keen intellect and forward thought on the part of the developers, a huge revolution of the Web 2.0 movement. Now, the casual user has infinitely stronger power with their access to applications available. Without users, Twitter would never have succeeded, and thus, the user is empowered as the backbone of the application. The application is merely a structure with which the more powerful user is allowed to express larger ideas, a truly revolutionary feat unique to our modern world.

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Written by Chris Fox

18 September, 2011 at 20:45

Posted in assignment

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