Following the dialogue between Malcolm Gladwell and Clay Shirky concerning the events in Tunesia and Egypt, among others, I noticed that both missed a valid point.
The picture above shows"The Art of War" by Sun Tzu in the form of a bamboo book - and I'd like to apply the term "war" to what is happening now
Waging war has always been a classical hierarchically organised business: headquarters making up the strategy, delegating that via generals, who delegate the orders to captains, who delegate it to lieutenants, who delegate it to sergeants, who order the soldiers to move left or right or any other direction
It is technology that changed all this
Where war used to be one-directionally following orders, and the results of the strategic decisions dripping in slowly from various locations at various speeds, sometimes even taking weeks to gather, the radio changed all this in the First and Second World War. Radio use in WWI wasn't widespread and mostly limited to planes and ships, and wasn't two-way, but it allowed for sending just-in-time orders to advanced troops.
World War II used two-way radio to receive orders and send back status updates so HQ had a real-time overview of the battlefields. Still, it was a point-to-point communication between HQ and individual battalions - the additional walkie-talkies had a range of a few hundred feet up to a mile at best, given clear sight and terrain - but allowed troops in the field to communicate amongst themselves, giving them a chance to combine strengths
Fast forward to the 21st century, and civilians. The equivalent of the walkie-talkie is a mobile phone, and every one has one. Range? Oh well global really, but national suffices doesn't it?
Can you imagine what Sun Tzu would have paid for that? Global two-way communication, being able to know from HQ what every soldier is doing, but especially having every single one being able to contact any other soldier or battalion and improvise? Unsure he'd have liked that last one, but back then that just wasn't an option.
It's what happens now. They're not soldiers, but civilians. They're not after gaining foreign territory, they just want to regain their own country from a corrupt and incompetent government.
People everywhere around the world can contact other people everywhere around the world, within seconds - from any place. Because of mobile
Mobility gives them the opportunities, mobile gives them the means, and social networks are the platforms - but it is the ability to convene all from any place in the world that makes the very difference; Internet Relay Chat, invented in 1988, would have served the same goal, but was limited to a very small minority who was bound to their desktop location.
What the social networks offer on top of that, is the ability to broadcast photos and videos - and that's where the public is involved - not gets involved, but is involved. But that's just a side-effect, worthy of a lot of other thought, but very little to do with the issue at hand
Social does play a role in this matter because it gives people a platform. But it's the mobile phone that turns every protester out there into a fully functional HQ
Update Januray 29th 13:42 PM: I changed the last lines, which were distracting from the point I'm trying to make here. More on that in another post