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Twitter's Role in Iran--Is The Medium Really The Message?


The blogosphere and mainstream media are ablaze with the news that Twitter is playing the key role in enabling the protest against the election fraud in Iran. This is social media?? first revolution (or second or third, counting the Ukraine, Latvia and a few other countries). The open platform is so flexible that it can evade attempts to shut it down by the Tehran government authorities.

This is all true and to be applauded and celebrated. But I wonder if the medium is not the message we should be taking away from events in Iran.

In the revolution that overthrew the Shah of Iran, the bazarre was the ??ocial media?space that enabled people to secretly communicate and organize. It was the traditional middle class bizarre merchants who led the fight against the Shah, in part because they were losing out to the modernization he unleashed.

That revolution was captured by another—the Islamist takeover of the Iranian state and that was organized in the mosque, another “social media” space that enabled people to communicate and organize.

Now we have the first digital space, safe enough to enough people to communicate and organize to fight for change.

My conclusion is that Twitter is but the latest of many forms of social media spaces. Each generation is comfortable with its own communication forms and spaces. Each finds the cultural means of organizing to generate action. Twitter is the form comfortable with the young in Iran. The mosque was the form comfortable for the religious. The bizarre was the place most comfortable for the merchants.

The medium may appear to be the message to the techno-fetishists who marvel that their generation can communicate digitally (and yes, as one who blogs and twitters, it is a marvelous technology). But the deeper message is that the message finds the medium.

Each generation at each periuod of time uses the technology it is comfortable with, whether it is getting dates or organizing street demonstrations. For American Gen Yers looking for jobs in big corporations, they have to write. For Gen Yers starting their own companies (or organizing to elect President Obama), they have to visualize, communicate and engage digitally.


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