The 140-character limit of Twitter messages doesn’t lend itself to extended discourse, but if you’re about to be dropped down the rabbit hole of a foreign and hostile justice system, you don’t really need to say a lot. Berkeley graduate journalism student James Buck, for instance, managed to boil down the essentials to just eight characters — ARRESTED — and as a result is a free man today. Buck is in Egypt working on his grad project on the country’s mostly leftist, anti-government bloggers. While photographing a demonstration last week with his interpreter and friend, Mohammed Salah Ahmed Maree, the two were picked up by police. Buck fired off his tweet to a wide circle of friends in Egypt and the U.S., and almost instantly had a network of people contacting the university, the embassy and news organizations on his behalf. He was out of jail the next day and is now campaigning for the release of Maree, who was taken off to another prison…
Frank Shaw, however, is not too impressed.
There is always a huge urge to make technology, especially new technology, the center of things. It will change the world, it will revolutionize the way we build cities, it will make us smarter, etc. Lost in the hype is the fact that often the most profound impacts of technology are the ones that play out over time, not the ones we see right away.
Twitter is a cool service. But it didn’t get Buck out of jail. Four years ago, the story would’ve been that his blog got him out of jail. 10 years before that it would’ve been his cell phone that got him out of jail. 10 years before that it would’ve been a chain letter of protest sent to the government.
What especially grates in this story is the sense of hubris that comes through — the sense that the technology used was more important than what happened itself. It’s a valley view of the world, for sure. Technology can be a powerful communications tool, but what is said is more important than the tool.