The call for a Day of Rage on January 25, 2011 that ignited the Egyptian revolution originated from a Facebook page. Many have since asked: Is this a “Facebook Revolution?” It is high time to put this question to rest and insist that political and social movements belong to people and not to communication tools and technologies. Facebook, like cell phones, the internet, and twitter, do not have agency, a moral universe, and are not predisposed to any particular ideological or political orientation. They are what people make of them. Facebook is no more responsible for Egypt’s revolution than Gutenberg’s printing press with movable type was responsible for the Protestant Reformation in the fifteenth century. But it is valid to say that neither the Reformation nor the pro-democracy rights’ movements sweeping Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, and much of the region would have come about at this juncture without these new tools. Digital communications media have revolutionized learning, cognition, and sociability and facilitated the development of a new generational behavior and consciousness. And the old guard simply do not get it.
Around the globe, far beyond Egypt and Tunisia, we are witnessing a monumental generational rupture taking place around digital literacy, and the coming of age of Generation 2.0. They take for granted interaction, collaboration, and community building on-line. The digital “non-literate” or “semi-literate” tend to be either the very poor lacking means, access to, or time for digital media, or the older generation, the pre-digitals, who do not see the value in changing their communication habits. Many from the pre-digital generation are quick to deride innovations such as Facebook and Twitter as being tools that indulge the egoistic tendencies of the young or which are colossal time wasters. While these critiques hold some validity, they capture only one side, and a small side, of a complex and epic generational sea change that is underway and that is being facilitated—not driven in some inevitable process—by the availability of new communication technologies and social tools.
This article is now featured in Jadaliyya`s edited volume entitled Dawn of the Arab Uprisings: End of An Old Order? (Pluto Press, 2012). The volume documents the first six months of the Arab uprisings, explaining the backgrounds and trajectories of these popular movements. It also archives the range of responses that emanated from activists, scholars, and analysts as they sought to make sense of the rapidly unfolding events. Click here to access the full article by ordering your copy of Dawn of the Arab Uprisings from Amazon, or use the link below to purchase from the publisher.