Sunday, March 6, 2011

Wikipedia Style Revolution in Egypt

Wael Ghonim of Google makes a fascinating argument regarding the recent revolution in Egypt that raises new possibilities as to the previously unforeseen implications of the internet for politics. His essential argument is that the revolution in Egypt operated much the same way as a Wikipedia page. In Wikipedia there is no one author of an article, no planing authority. Instead people around the world contribute little pieces of information that comes together to form an article. The same with Egypt; according to Ghonim, this was a revolution with "no heroes." (Ghonim did spend twelve days in an Egyptian prison.) No one planned this revolution. Instead people came together on the internet and threw around ideas for protests, which others then took up. This gave the revolution a certain "purity" in that no one had an agenda; this really was a revolution of this people fed up with their own government and nothing else.

As a non-believer in the "great men theory of history," that historical events are shaped by a few exceptional individuals, I lean toward seeing this as not a shift in revolutions themselves, revolutions were always about regular people doing their little bit for their own personal reason, but as a shift in how we perceive revolutions. It is clear to all that the revolution in Egypt was not masterminded by any leaders. In light of this it will be interesting to see who, if anyone, tries to step in and claim the mantel of revolution. Thus perhaps the chief victim of the Egyptian revolution, more than just Mubarak, was the great man theory of history and we will have to wait to see how that changes world politics.

I am eager to get the reactions of my readers to this speech. In particular I tag Shana Carp, who blogs about the internet and its implications for communication.     

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