Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Today you are the media, it is your duty to report and keep the hope alive." -- Mir-Hossein Mousavi


iran uprising media cell phones

Anyone who was closely following the live updates Saturday, the 20th, understands that something very important took place, something that will shape the world in some as-of-yet unknown way. We know this because we felt it.

Saturday morning I woke up anxious, eager to find out if the protests would continue after Khamenei's warnings on Friday, and what would happen if they did. I found some live updates and was unable to leave my computer. I sat refreshing my screen until 5PM.


9.55 am. About 3000 or 4000 people are in Enqelab square now. Police is there. No Khatami, no Karroubi, no Mousavi

10.24 am. Tehran protesters coming in waves, will go on till dark and beyond. This no longer rally but street fighting.

10.32 am. City is closed down with anti-riot forces and police. The people are being beaten with knives, batons. Things are going downhill.

10.50 am. things are horrible, please pray for us

11:24 am. Helicopters spraying water with agent in it onto crowds. Skin irritant, will make it feel as though water is scalding.

11:41. am. This is street fighting like the first 2 nights. They are chanting death to the dictator now, no slogans about votes anymore

12.02 pm. Mousavi tells he's bathed [ritually] for martyrdom.

12.05 pm. Confirmed: European embassies are giving care for injured! They help care for acid burns. Hospitals are traps!

12.46 pm. I feel like I'm in a police state for 1st time. Pple are so pissed, starting to feel scared. As of late aftrnoon Basij are everywhere


Those messages were posted on Twitter by people on the streets, interspersed with cell phone photographs and videos. It was amazing and immediate. I had access to large amounts of raw, personalized information, and it was left up to me how to interpret, think, and feel about it, instant by instant. Unfiltered information funneled straight into my home resulted in a real (and emotional) connection to the people in Iran. The information meant something in way it normally does not, shaped around individuals yet still existing within its larger context. (It was also great to see something as frivolous as Twitter and cell-phones being used for something important!)

I knew all of this on Saturday but it wasn't until trying to catch up on events Sunday by way of cable news that I realized a true media revolution had taken place. Watching CNN felt like stepping back through time. Questions that normally exist in the back of my mind immediately inhibited my ability to watch: Why does this feel so motionless and dead? Why am I watching someone tell me the news? Why is this medium so clearly and effortlessly exposed to me as being a gate which holds back information instead of presenting it? I realized that one of the reasons the information online seemed so much more like news was because it was not dumbed down or interpreted by journalists for me. As Andrew Sullivan noted, "We simply became a hub for all this breaking information. This requires journalists getting out of the way of the story rather than attempting to put their own stamp on it and delivering their own version of the truth. I felt last week more like a DJ than a journalist, compiling and sampling and remixing the sounds, sights, events and words streaming out of an ever-shifting drama." Throughout Saturday I felt stimulated knowing that some of the information I was receiving was probably completely bogus, but I knew that amidst a wide enough sample a true picture could be glimpsed. The picture being painted was much more detailed and nuanced than anything I had ever seen on television, and, most importantly, it wasn't being painted for me. The photographs were also allowed to exist on their own, moment by moment. Videos were not narrated or edited but shown simply as moments in time. The Monoform was not utilized to distill information, and because of this, it was quickly and obviously revealed how much the Monoform distorts the truth and condescends to the viewer. For the first time ever the word that best described the form and function of the mainstream media to me was archaic. Everything has changed, regardless of whether or not cable news recognizes it. "One Person = One Broadcaster."

Outside of this, something even bigger was happening. Again, Andrew Sullivan: "People throughout the world are not only listening but responding. They’re engaging with individual participants, they’re passing on their messages to their friends and they’re even providing detailed instructions to [allow] internet access that the authorities can’t immediately censor. That kind of participation is really extraordinary." Not only do we feel part of it, but because of the way technology was utilized, people from all over the world can (to some degree) take part in, and support, revolutions. The implications of this are obviously immense.

With the Internet slowed by the authorities, Iranians were forced to use something simple. "To communicate, they tweeted. Within hours of the farcical election result, I tracked down a bunch of live Twitter feeds and started to edit and rebroadcast them as a stream of human consciousness on the verge of revolution." My personal fear is that the far wider implications of such a remark -- a stream of human consciousness on the verge of revolution -- will be lost in a specific place and time, and not seen as something that needs to be nurtured and brought to fruition. I refuse to read that beautiful phrase the way Andrew Sullivan intended it.


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