Tweets from Tahrir is a document that could not have existed before the digital age. Even if you went to all of those people in the aftermath of Tahrir Square and asked them to write down what they thought at the time, they would write down something different, because recollection always colours events differently. This is a genuine live stream of what took place.
We talked about Nicholas Carr, and the idea that deep reading is fading away. The theory is that you are distracted by hypertext links and no longer read in the conventional way – and that that alters your whole mood of reading, so your engagement level suffers. You’re not reading properly, you’re becoming lost in a maze of online distractions. The reality, I think, is rather different. When you look at a stream of tweets with the TV on in the background, you are synthesising the story. Your perception of events will be different from anyone else’s in the world, because you will light on different things. That is invaluable in not accepting the authority of a single news source or information source, but assembling your own understanding out of individual perspectives.
In the digital age one of the most overused phrases is: “This is a Gutenberg moment.” That was the moment when the printing press took away the Church’s monopoly on information, and suddenly anyone who had an idea or opinion could be distributed. The only Gutenberg moment that I have come across today is this one. Here you have a situation where the same kind of distribution is possible. It’s no longer the case that if you want to know what happened you have to go check the BBC. Because the BBC could be wrong, as could the individual who is telling you what they saw. But if you are following 300 or 400 people in Tahrir Square who are tweeting about what they are seeing in front of their eyes, and at the same time watching the BBC or Al Jazeera, you can weave together a picture of the situation for yourself.
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