Saturday, March 12, 2011

Unplugging Egypt

Amidst the protests, bands of looters, and general unrest, the Egyptian government did the unthinkable. In an effort to control the population and put a stop to the protests, Mubarak disconnected the country from the Internet. The fact that this seemed to be the most effective way to stop the opposition in its tracks highlights just how connected we have become. Rather than gain control of the streets, the government simply unplugged the population.
Egypt was disconnected from the world almost overnight. For five days, practically no information went in or out of the country via the World Wide Web. According to the New York Times, the government began by blocking social networks like Facebook and Twitter in an attempt to stop protesters from organizing and speaking out. Less then twenty-four hours later, “they drilled unexpectedly all the way down to the bottom layer of the Internet and stopped all traffic [flow].” This depravation of connection was met with anger and fear. Many argued that the blackout crossed the line, depriving people of the right to be constantly connected.
This exploitation of people’s reliance on technology sends a sobering message. While the ability to be constantly connected has enabled organization and mobilization of protesters, it could have become the Achilles Heal of the revolution. Like any machine, a movement that depends on the Internet dies when the connection is lost. Fortunately, the disconnection did not put a damper on the protests; in fact, it inflamed them. Some say that the tactic would have worked perfectly if they had brought “down the curtain” sooner. Either way, the continued protests show that the revolution cannot be unplugged, and that technology is being properly used as a tool in Egypt.
While many were outraged that they had been disconnected, others were simply astonished that the government had succeeded in the “dark achievement that many had thought impossible in the age of global connectedness.” The scope and speed of the shut down was “unprecedented” and could be devastating if used again. Indeed, the Internet “off switch” could prove to be the weapon of the future with the ability to isolate a population.
While the fact that the Egyptian government thought the protests could be shut down with the Internet speaks volumes about human reliance on technology, the fact that the Internet can be shut down on that scale is a much more pressing issue. This new reality forces us to look critically at our reliance on technology and ask ourselves some difficult questions. What would happen if something like this were to happen in America? Could we still function without being connected (whether it be to the world or with someone down the street)? Finally, why do we feel so violated when we are disconnected? Is being constantly connected a right, or is it just something that he have come to expect?

No comments: