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The Downside of Democratization

Two things happened last week that reveal the glorious possibilities and pitiful inanities of the technological revolution.iran revolution

One has been called Iran’s Twitter Revolution:

What neither the U.N. nor the European Union have been able to do, what the Great Satan is too preoccupied with its finances to even try, may be accomplished by a social-networking internet site called Twitter.

Some have suggested that the Iranian protests are the single most important political use of technology in history. (Click on the above pic for a sense of scope of this uprising. It’s mind boggling. ) And the fact that michael-jacksonTwitter has played such an important role in providing critical updates and reportage from the belly of this oppressive regime, is even more fascinating. Can a social networking tool topple the ayatollahs? Surely, this is the best of what technology can supply.

Then Michael Jackson died.

Suddenly Twitter, the little  engine that could, shifted gears. A story with long-term historical implications was quickly supplanted by one far more trivial. And Twitter was there.

The AP reported:

[Twitter] said news of Jackson’s death generated the most tweets per second since Barack Obama was elected president, and more than twice the normal tweets per second from the moment the story broke.

Then came the deluge of bad jokes. And suddenly the Iranian uprising was yesterday’s front page news.

Web 2.0 has decentralized the power base and led to the democratization of information. But our total connectivity has created something else — an unchecked emotive megaphone.  So while many used the Iranian protest as validation of the power of technology and social networking, Jackson’s death reminds us that we’re still a nation of voyeurs, fixated upon celebrity, and all too eager to migrate from the complex and vital, to the utterly inane.

Yes, Jackson’s death is tragic and should produce grief and introspection. But the Iranian revolution, and whatever form it eventually takes, will in the long run impact the course of the world far more than Michael Jackson ever will. But alas, with our short attention spans and fetish for all that glitters, no technology can ever save us from ourselves.

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