That’s what fuelled Arab Spring. The revolution triggered by Mohamed Bouazizi, a young Tunisian street vendor, who set himself on fire on Dec 17th 2010, was set ablaze by social media. It effectively used it as a platform to promote insurgent agendas and organise collective action. Digital activism during the Arab Uprisings in 2011 confirmed the significant role of the social revolution and its ability to restore human rights, “create identities, spur action”. August 2011 UK urban riots exposed the vulnerability of the state and signified the rising power of communities. Occupy Wall Street which spread worldwide through the use of social media – Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook – was yet another testament to the amplifying and exposing power of social media to be used as a platform for change.
Technological revolutions are among the most important and consequential events that happen to humanity – they “reshape not only our material worlds but also our culture and our very human nature”. Yet their long-term impacts remain largely unpredictable.
The Agricultural revolution came about in Mesopotamia eleven thousand years ago and ended the hunter-gatherer era. It led to increased populations and accelerated cultural and technological development. The invention of the Gutenberg’s printing press in 1448 fueled the Renaissance, the Reformation and the scientific revolution and resulted in unprecedented increase in mass literacy. The Manhattan project during World War II, which led to the atomic bomb, was largely based on the scientific discovery of nuclear fission of heavy particles.
In 1957 the competition for geopolitical rivalry marked the beginning of the space exploration era with the launch of Sputnik 1 into space. A year later the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, created to advance U.S. military technology, began developing a communication system to survive nuclear bombardment by the USSR. All of this led to ARPANET, later to become what we know as the Internet.
By the late 1990s the rapid development of the Internet brought about another change in the business environment, namely, the arrival of the ‘digital economy’. The age of Internet began in the mid-1990s when on 9th August 1995, Netscape, a 16-month-old Silicon Valley start-up, went public. The shares initially priced at $28 a share, rose to as much as high as $75 on the day and closed trade for almost 2 hours. A network that was until then primarily used by universities and research labs was now transformed into a platform with a vastly expanding reach and connectivity that allowed anyone with internet access to access diverse content, do transactions and communicate with people all around the world – a platform for innovation.
The speed and wide scope of Internet use since 1982 became a force for change in the global business environment, creating new business economies. It offered enterprises the ability of direct contact and electronic transactions with a global client base, often resulting in dramatic cost decreases and severely impacting the ways in which enterprises achieve competitive advantages. These global economic changes resulted in one of the most turbulent business environments in history.
Since its inception, with the launch of Six Degrees in 1997, modern social media has fundamentally changed how we perceive the world. In 2004, the Orange revolution was enabled by the use of electronic media and online chat boards, yet, most media outlets were state controlled. In 2014 it was tweets by journalists and activists that got people out on the streets for the Maidan Square protests in Kiev, Ukraine. A decade later the story is different – social media is not as easily controlled by the state. Even in Communist Party led China with its infamous policy of Internet censorship where sites like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are being banned microblogging’s instant messaging appears to be a powerful medium not as easily restricted by those in power. Social Media does not ask for permission.
We are yet to see what direction technology and specifically, social media, will take. But one thing is undeniable – it’s essential role in being able to bring about social change.