The title of this post may seem strange, normally you would want to see something like “Facebook: A new revolution”. A revolution is change; a massive upheaval in the way we live or the way society functions and is often associated with political change. Right now you are thinking what is he going on about?
The idea that technology can improve the lives of those of the poor is not new. The fundamentals of the advancement of society can be found in what is known as the “Idea of Progress”. This theory emerged during the Enlightenment and defined many of the ways Western Liberal societies work today! Equal education, gender equality and principles of the Libertarian doctrine owe something to the “Idea of Progress”. People talk about seers and predictions but arguably the greatest predictor of change was Condorcet – some of his predictions include the disappearance of slavery, the rise in literacy, equal rights between sexes and more. He made these predictions by projecting how society and culture will change, evolving to a higher level by improving education and eliminating poverty. Powerful thoughts and a vision of what can happen when society progresses. As society becomes more ‘civilised’ the opportunities for everyone improves and we progress as a collective.
Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, best known as an advisor to Louis XVI, economist and statesman argued that society can advance and progress and to do this, society needs tools to do so. The use of technology can help build a better society for all. He proposed improving the life of the poor in France by using civil engineering technology to build infrastructure (sewers and clean water delivery) to support the peasants of the time. This idea was shot down (why would the peasants need this? Money should be used for the Kingdom and to fight wars!) and was one of the reasons Turgot became a threat to the royalty in France. It would be naive to argue that the fall of Louis XVI and his subsequent beheading was due to his unwillingness to use technology to advance the life of the poor. The French Revolution was more complex than this, but had the peasantry been living an improving life would the revolution have happened in the same way?
The idea that technology combined with human ingenuity and the ability for us to stretch the boundaries of our knowledge is prevalent everywhere. The way we teach students and learn ourselves, is down to the development of the printing press. The printing press revolutionized the way we pass information from one generation to the next and accelerated our ability to learn and innovate. It has influenced the way we live, the way society is organized the ability for ideologies to explode and flourish. Without the written word, our ability to have electricity and subsequently computers would almost certainly be impossible. Think about what you touch in a day – your cell phone, your office phone, your computer, the mode of transport, your entertainment, banking, utilities, even the clothes you wear probably involve some sophisticated chemicals or process of manufacturing. Technology surrounds you in more ways that you can possibly think. If you are reading this, you will probably think that your standard of living is better than those who lived 50 years ago and almost certainly better than those 200 hundred years ago.
So when the Arab spring happened, the role social media played in this and the use of instant messaging and Facebook for people to share ideas is just the natural progression of what technology has brought to society collectively over the last two centuries of innovation. The explosiveness and force of change has been accelerated but it is in reality the growth of the seeds planted in the past.
It is just the same revolution.