Your productivity is not the only thing social networking is spelling doom for. Middle Eastern dictators are finding this out the hard way
There is an ongoing joke on the internet that YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are soon to merge forces to create a black-hole like time sucking website known as “YouTwitFace”. But having said that, with a combined valuation of more than $80Bn, a user base of over 500 million and close to 10 billion page views per day between the three of them, these websites are no laughing matter.
In the United States alone approximately 12 Billion man hours were spent on Facebook in 2010. To put it in perspective, these hours translate to 1.37 million years; One ten-thousandth of the age of the universe. The Universe! People worldwide spend 700 billion minutes per month. That is 1.32 million years. And we wondered where we lost time.
But we believe in finding the silver lining, and a cloud this dark most definitely does have a very prominent one.
The Facebook Revolutions
The recent developments in the Arab world show the impact social media and networking can have on the world. As Thomas Friedman noted in his book “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”, democratization of technology will empower the individual citizen, who, in the case of certain Arab countries, is turning around to use that power to promote democracy. In the case of Tunisia where the revolution began because of a policewoman slapping vegetable vendor, led to the end of a 23 year rule by Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. A brief sequence of events: Policewoman slaps vendor, who self immolates because of this humiliation, which prompts enraged family members to protest. Protests pick up steam and within 4 weeks, Mr. Dictator is fleeing the country with a boat load of gold. So where is Zuck (Mark Zuckerberg’s alias) in all this, you may wonder. He is present in the bolded phrases above. Against Ben Ali’s 1.5 million strong supporters, the revolution gathered 2 million rebels in a matter of two weeks almost entirely through online campaigns on Facebook. And though Facebook most certainly did not inspire the revolution, it acted as a very strong medium for organizing and gathering momentum. Roger Cohen, a NY Times columnist, notes that Facebook propelled insurrection from the interior to the Tunisian capital in 28 days whereas it took Castro years preparing revolution in the Cuban interior before coming to the capital.
The Tunisian Revolution is proving to be the little snowball near the peak that triggers the avalanche. When Egypt, one of the better governed Arab states, initially looked like pulling a Tunisia, it wasn’t surprising that the first measure the government in Egypt took to contain the situation was banning Facebook. Well, so much for that.
With Abidine and Mubarak sent packing, and people in Yemen, Jordan and other Arabic states getting all sorts of ideas, the future holds a lot uncertainty. The one to watch out for is Iran.
Zuck The World
All the people (myself included) who thought Julian Assange deserved to be Time’s Person of the Year in 2010 instead of Mark Zuckerberg, clearly didn’t see the above crisis coming. And if things turn out well and the fundamentalist dictators are ousted, a new way for democracy may be paved and finally some peace may be established in the Middle East. If all this happens then the Noble Peace Prize for Zuckerberg shouldn’t be all that far. Well, when they can give it to Obama they can surely give it to Zuck.
Vibhu Singh is an alumnus of IIT Kanpur who enjoys exploring the complex socio-econo-political relationships of world.