Reflection on the book Twitter and Tear Gas

An internet society differs in significant ways from a pre-internet society, and this affects all members of that society, whether a person uses the internet or not.

(Tufekci, 2017)

Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.

(Kranzberg, 1986)

In Twitter and Tear Gas, Zeynep Tufekci describes the ways in which the changing digital connectivity of the world has led to changes in the ways that people organize protests. The short answer is that protests are able to form and coordinate much more quickly, but lack the ability to react to changing conditions and make big decisions in the same way that slower-building movements can. Technology has changed the way that people can connect and communicate and organize across distances and time. This has changed the way people protest, and it has changed everything else as well. Whether you think of it as compressing time and space or as expanding the borders of the village, digital communication technology has fundamentally changed how people can and do interact. Like-minded people are able to meet, share, and organize no matter where their coordinates may be. Information and ideas can spread between distant and disparate groups like it never has been able to before, with the click of a “share” button.

Digital technologies of connectivity affect how we experience space and time; they alter the architecture of the world—connecting people who are not physically near, preserving words and pictures that would be lost to time. (Tufekci, 2017)

Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and their precursors like MySpace, have been so successful because people want to stay connected to the ones they are close to, even when distance gets in the way. “Facebook has been adopted rapidly in almost every country where it has been introduced because it fulfills a basic human desire: to connect with family and friends” (Tufekci, 2017). The human desire for connectedness has led people all over the world to embrace the internet as a social space. There will be no undoing of social media—being social is fundamental to being human. The library needs to be involved and connected in the places where people are so that people can be involved and connected where the library is. And the library can be everywhere.

The hyperlinked library resembles the modern protests described in the book because it is both horizontally organized and very connected. However, the hyperlinked library benefits from a stronger organizational core than the protests, which makes it more stable and long-lasting. Modern protests are described as an “adhocracy,” where things get done by whoever is interested in responding to the call to action. In the hyperlinked library, staff have the flexibility to come together in teams to pursue interesting challenges and projects.

The internet is part of the real world. According to Tufekci, many governments were surprised, shaken, or even toppled by underestimating the power that rested in the online world. They “dismissed ‘online’ acts as frivolous and powerless. Indeed, authorities in many countries had derided the internet and digital technology as ‘virtual’ and therefore unimportant.” (Tufekci, 2017). We know now that the social connections and activities that happen online are not make-believe, but are real and meaningful. To be an information institution like a library and to be afraid of what the internet brings would be foolish. The library can join in the connectivity to share its resources and bring people together. The internet is where people are.

Tufekci poses the question, why do these major protests always set up a library? One answer: the things that anti-authoritarian protesters value are shared with a library.

Libraries express a set of values that are aligned with the deeply held values of the protesters.

Libraries are core symbols of an ethic of non-commodified knowledge. Anyone, regardless of how much money she or he has, can check out a book, and a book is passed from person to person in a chain of knowledge sharing. Perhaps more than anything, libraries represent a public good and a public space that is non-monetized and shared. (Tufekci, 2017)

The library during the Gezi Park protest in Istanbul, Turkey, 2013.

References

Kranzberg, M. (1986). Technology and History: “Kranzberg’s Laws”. Technology and Culture,27(3), 544-560. doi:10.2307/3105385

Tufekci, Z. (2017). Twitter and tear gas: The power and fragility of networked protest. Yale University Press.

One Response

  1. Connecting with others is essential when trying to protest on issues that directly impact us. We all may have different interests but the commonality of having our voices heard is important to us. Having the ease of inviting others to support your cause by creating the right hashtag also makes it easier for us to follow and if interested support the issue. So how do libraries fit in? Libraries have tools that people use, it’s a place that people may feel safe, it has staff that can assist with researching topics, and many find libraries as a safe space. Growing up visiting a library was for me a place where I could ask questions and library staff helped me find my answer. Even today if I want to read more about a hot topic but I know very little about the issue I can look at old articles to read on the history about it, get access to newspapers, and books. I can also log in to a computer if I don’t own one and search for the latest news or what is happening with the issue.

    Social media gives people a space to quickly send updates and to ask for support. You can also create ask for monetary donations through Gofundme and with a few clicks it can be shared with triple the amount of people than what you can do with a telephone or door to door requests. I don’t think our lives will ever be the same with how we connect with others. This both can be positive or negative.

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