Call me old fashioned or just plain cruel, but I prefer my revolutions with a dash of blood and gore. You know, the kind that sees royalty getting executed at the guillotine in the midst of wildly cheering crowds, lustily baying for their blood. Or better still, the kind of revolution that throws up a charismatic guerrilla leader as the head of a state just liberated from the throes of capitalist greed, a la Fidel Castro. As anyone who has been witness to the incongruous sight of Pepsi guzzling youth fashionably clad in standard Marxist attire-a ragged kurta, torn jeans and a cigarette dangling from the lips-would testify, every revolution of its day is supposed to leave behind an indelible impression on the consciousness of the generations that follow, irrespective of the revolutionary zeal they may or may not have. But as the world watches awe-struck at the fall of one Arab dictator after another, I can’t help but wonder just how posterity is going to look back at the history that is unfolding in front of our eyes . With no clear leadership or heroes in sight, one is hard-pressed to find that one defining image that would stay in our minds long after the dust has settled in the bylanes of Cairo, Tunis and Tripoli. If anything, the current tumult in Egypt has been a relatively peaceful affair, and most certainly so by the standards of the Arab world. Even as we struggle to find the 21st century version of Che Guevara, chances are that the only true hero to emerge in the final analysis is not going to be a person/ group of persons at all- instead, the current spate of upheavals rocking the ever volatile Middle East may well be remembered as the first genuine example of social media finally coming of age as an instrument of social change. As anti-govt protestors were thronging the Tahrir square in Cairo, breaking news of young men and women braving the repressive regime of an autocrat well past his use-by date, was transmitted instantly to millions of netizens across the globe logged in to the social media of their choice. With conventional media sources struggling to put forth the latest news in the face of ever tightening regulations, that made it all but impossible for accurate information to filter out, it was the internet, with its promise of blissful anonymity that finally saved the day and allowed the world to keep track of events as they unfolded in fast forward mode across West Asia. While history will be the judge of just how important a role Facebook or Twitter may have played in catalyzing the events of the past few months, we can rest assured that social media will no longer be dismissed as just another one of those transient fads that a perennially restless youth chooses to expend its boundless energy on.
As increasingly nervous governments from the Who’s Who of the dictatorial universe clamp down on their populace, it is the power of the internet in general and social media websites in particular that will emerge as the most powerful medium for bringing about transformative structural changes in societies long held back by suffocating political and social norms. As our own experience at home- with online matrimonial sites fast replacing traditional match-makers- suggests, deep rooted mental barriers can often be by-passed at the click of a mouse- whether you choose to leave behind a tweet or opt for the innocuous poke is a decision best left to your discretion.