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Lange: Revolutionary Technology

03/01/11 5:55PM By Willem Lange
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(HOST)  Commentator Willem Lange has been thinking about the convergence of two revolutions - one in politics and the other in technology.   

(LANGE) If you've been surprised by what's currently going on in the Middle East, I suggest you haven't been paying attention.  For years now, we've all been surrounded by people chatting on cell phones, Tweeting each other compulsively, and consulting their Blackberries for everything from the Dow-Jones averages to the name of the highest mountain in New Brunswick.  Most of us have become all too familiar with the cute little acronyms that texters use to keep within the limit on a message: LOL, OMG, BTW, and PLOS (Parent looking over shoulder).

The medium, however, doesn't always indicate the quality of the message.  For example, I have a facsimile edition of Charles Dickens' manuscript of A Christmas Carol that's such a mess, it's a wonder any printer could set it to type.  Likewise, not all that twitters is inconsequential.  The electronic explosion is largely a medium looking for a message.

Way back in 1918, just as the United States was entering the First World War, a popular new song asked the question, "How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree?"  As people all over the world gain ever-increasing access to information and communication, they begin to share the notion that perhaps the emperor is wearing no clothes.

Julian Assange's WikiLeaks, whatever you may think of him or his creation, has reminded people in power that secrets, important or otherwise, are probably not going to remain secrets once they're committed to a computer.  It's also shown that much of what's been labeled confidential is in the category of TMI (Too much information).  Were we shocked, for example, to learn that the Afghan government is corrupt to its core, or that Muammar Gadaffi is afraid to fly over water or sleep anywhere above a ground floor, and always travels with his impressive Ukrainian nurse?

But back to the Middle East, where for decades powerful rulers have kept the lid on their populations with a combination of military power, rigged elections, and strategic alliances.  The post-election demonstrations in Iran, and the often brutal suppression of dissidents, has been a perfect example of the technique.  But you can bet the cell phones there are a-twitter with the news from Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya.

Clearly, it's just a matter of time for repressive regimes all over Africa, the Middle East, and perhaps even the Far East.  The United States, which has tried to export democracy the same way Norse kings once established Christianity - at the point of a spear - is discovering that people everywhere - even in Wisconsin - can do it for themselves: can share problems and fears as never before, through electronic media, and, in the words of the old Woody Guthrie song, "decide to do somethin' about it."  I only hope we're ready for it.

This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.
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