The Twenty First Century
The Economist describes how bloggers have the turned the Internet into the latest field of political action in the Middle East.
They call themselves pyjamahideen. Instead of galloping off to fight holy wars, they stay at home, meaning, often as not, in their parents' houses, and clatter about computer keyboards. Their activity is not as explosive as the self-styled jihadists who trouble regimes in the region, and they come in all stripes, secular liberal as well as radical Islamist. But like Gulliver's Lilliputians, youthful denizens of the internet are chipping away at the overweening dominance of Arab governments.
The phenomenon is showing up in Iran as well. Gateway Pundit notes that Iranians are blogging their protests. Here's video of protests in Northern Iran.
Although these activities are not to be compared with Cho Seung-Hui's rants, technologically speaking, the process both he and the pyjamahideen use to broadcast messages to the world is very similar. If you look at the Iranian video, you will see a number of protesters using hand-held video cameras. These, like the cell phone footage of the Virginia Tech attack, plus the Internet, are the currents on which raw news travels today.
Whether this is a blessing or a curse depends on your point of view. Compared to the slick, literate and themed articles of the New York Times a decade ago, the new torrent of information is both disconcerting, tiring and at the same time revolutionary. The stylistic advantage of Old Media news coverage was its consistency. Readers could view the world through a framework in which everything, like the pre-Copernican universe, sat in its appointed place. Every article had it stock bigots, quixotic heroes, feisty underdogs, idealistic lawyers as characters within recognizable story lines. The news may not have been as true, but it was easier to follow.
Today's raw news seeps past the media gatekeepers and fetches up like a reality show at its most confusing. The ugly and the beautiful run together; we thrill to events which leave us both exalted and ashamed. Everywhere we see the riot of life in all its complexity. And all of a sudden we no longer understand the world in the way we once did. Richard Miniter's interview with Ahmed Chalabi at Pajamas captures the ambiguity of Iraq, where good and bad, heroes and villains sometimes occupy the same space; where what might have beens haunt the present decisions. Eugene Volokh smashes our comfortable image of professors when he argues they should be allowed to carry guns to school. Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Truly, goodbye.
Part of the problem with the Internet is that it is structurally unsuited to constructing the great collective hymns of praise which the last century found so necessary. You needed a pulpit for that. The twentieth century raised the highest pulpits and created the most developed form of mass leadership in the Nuremberg rallies and the television networks of the Golden Age. Those altars have fallen and their wrecks stretch away into the dark distance. And now we are alone among our old memories. Free and painfully afraid.