My humility in the face of revolution

I first heard about Tunisia, as a nation, a couple of weeks ago. I don’t recall where, exactly, but it wasn’t because I was trying to stay up to date with current affairs; it had something to do with a technologists becoming a minister. That is the kind of thing that pops up on my radar.

After that, of course, I picked up scraps here and there of the “Jasmine Revolution”. I was fascinated by it, because I’ve never heard of a government dissolving without incredible consequences. It seems like that could never happen in this country, and I try to empathize with the citizens of those other countries, to try to sense if they felt the same way. I know people who believe the government is so corrupt they live on mountains without phones, they hunt for their food, and have lots of guns. I think that is extreme, and I take an elitist pleasure if “knowing” that our government is corrupt in the way that it affects me, eavesdropping and slowly eroding civil rights away through confusing legislation. I don’t fight with guns, I use encryption. My social circle doesn’t isolate itself in the wilderness, we self-host our social networks. That is how we supposedly make our world a better place.

It makes sense then that when I heard about Egypt, it wasn’t about a dictator that had been in power for my entire life, or that the price of food was becoming dangerously high. The news that was caught in my net was that Egypt had been cut off from the internet. People protest all the time, and there are dictators all over the world, but I didn’t know a government could turn off a country overnight. I was about to correct that last sentence, but it describes how I think about the world; Egypt exists as a country in so much as they are able to connect to me over the network.

I was fortunate to have had a really weird week, sleeping polyphasically and not being able to really focus on anything for too long. On Friday, I stayed awake for 22.5 hours, and at least half of that was spent obsessing over various information feeds about what was going on there. I was critical of any single source, creating a wiki article in my head full of facts, assumptions and doubts. I was exhausted in every sense: mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I wanted someone to come in and turn off my computer, to hold me and tell me to rest. I wanted to ball up and cry, because even for how much I appreciate how my life is, there is so much just outside my vision that I take for granted.

I’ve never experience mace, let alone tear gas. Despite how I am determined to not be intimidated by a cop, I’ve never been mistreated by one. I didn’t march for Oscar Grant, a person who was obviously bound and subsequently murdered, witnessed by a train full of citizens, firsthand, in the city next to where I live. I didn’t pull down a wall in Berlin. I didn’t march, sit, or boycott anything in the 60’s.

I didn’t even vote in the last mid-term elections.

At this point it is pretty easy to get down on myself. Indeed, lately that has been the theme for my personal thoughts, being really self-critical. But it is easy for me to not go there, because I can’t this all the time, I can’t take the stress and worry of knowing so many details of what is going on around the world. I carry it, and I don’t have the emotional capacity to pay the attention these events deserve while still being able to function day to day.

However, something changed. I am angry. I am a bottle of rage. If I saw a person pleading for help, while another holds them in place, I wouldn’t walk up to them and urge that they both show restraint. I would help the person get away, because as an adult, even if a very good friend is being violent or otherwise inappropriate, I know what has to be done. And I am angry that the people that have so much power are not adults. I am angry that I am “afraid” of children playing politics, while there are people willing to kill themselves because they have had their dignity taken from them.

I am angry, and I am humbled.

I am given a new purpose, to find technology that actually assists those strong-tie relationships that fuel real, actual change. Not a capital-C Change, not the kind you can believe in, but rather the kind of change that abolishes governments, destroys buildings, walks arm in arm, and waters the trees of liberty. I feel good about the work I do, but I want to do more, and I can, because I am brilliant. But mostly because I am angry and humbled.

2 thoughts on “My humility in the face of revolution”

  1. I did a report on Tunisia in elementary school and have always had a soft spot for it (same thing with Redding, CA).

    The thing I find interesting about the Twitter revolution story that seems to keep repeating itself is that IMO no one at Twitter was really trying to encourage large-scale political change when they first envisioned the product. I’m sure they’re thrilled that it’s happening, but my feeling is that they were trying to build a tool to enable gossip, and accidentally invented an infrastructure that can be used to accelerate political movements. Like penicillin or any other accidental discovery.

    Twitter itself is pretty venal and closed and self-interested. And for Twitter to work, there has to be an Internet, and for there to be a usable Internet there has to be a financial interest, for a nation, to have widespread cheap connectivity. So there’s a big chain of inequity and bad motives all the way down to the turtles. Yet this lovely thing grows out of it.

    So I’m interested in how, instead, you would go about building technology that enables this kind of change on purpose. Anything that declared itself “technology to bring down governments” would be blocked. You almost have to be sneaky, with bad motives, to create a platform large enough to be abused in this way…

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