It’s a sign of how dependent our lives have become on the Internet, or more accurately, of “being connected.” News of Egypt cutting off Internet and cellular service for five days this week shocked the world, with fears that news of the revolution would disappear down a black hole or, worse, prevent the protesters from communicating with one another.
But guess what? News did not disappear. Information and video still showed up on Al Jazeera and CNN and other outlets, and such ancient technologies as fax, dial-up modem and ham radio served as alternatives for the unplugged. The Egypt Internet shutdown did not appear to slow down the protesters. The oldest form of communication — word of mouth — may work faster on a local level than anything in our digital world.
It seems as if wired Americans in particular were the most derailed by the shutdown because they were no longer able to get news from Egypt via their preferred channels of Twitter and Facebook. And Frank Rich makes a lot of sense when he argues that we are affected by “the default assumption that the Egyptian uprising … must be powered by the twin American-born phenomena of Twitter and Facebook.”
There are still serious questions about how effective social networking tools can be in these situations. I wrote last year about how the revolution will not be Tweeted. This week, another Middle East hotspot, Syria, opened up Facebook and YouTube after a three-year ban. But really, what better means is there to keep an eye on dissent?