A paper I wrote about the Ukrainian revolution a couple of years back has just been published in The Atlanta Review of Journalism History. Re-reading it in the post-Arab Spring shows some interesting parallels between the communication environment in the Ukraine (pre-Twitter and Facebook, but post-Internet and cell phone text messaging.) I noted that Ukrainian protesters used technology to their advantage — involving a global audience in the protests and even soliciting donations:
This type of global feedback was unprecedented. Supportive people from all over the world offered words of encouragement to protesters in the middle of an ongoing political revolution. The audience could also offer money – through the (protester’s) website – to help fund the protesters living in the tent city and other efforts. In global struggles of the past, viewers at home could only watch as oppressed citizens fought for freedom. But, audiences could actively communicate and support the protesters of the Orange Revolution.
Hmm. Sounds familiar. Unfortunately, the revolution there didn’t stick. The current president of Ukraine was part of the old government kicked out in 2004. In this sense, the Arab Spring has already outpaced the Orange Revolution. Not much chance of some of the Arab leaders returning to power.
I also like this bit at the end:
The global participation in Ukraine’s internal politics appears to be further evidence supporting Marshall McLuhan’s theoretical construct of the “global village.” In 1962, McLuhan already saw technology making the world a smaller place. “The new electronic interdependence,” he wrote, “recreates the world in the image of a global village”61 He noted that the electronic age had sealed the “entire human family into a single global tribe.”62 Although scholars differ over how optimistic McLuhan saw this electronic world, words such as “tribe” and “village” imply a communal existence in which participants care about each other. Long before the advent of the Internet, McLuhan seemed to argue that electronic advancements could potentially lead to a problem-solving global forum creating a new sense of world community.
More recently however, theorist Arjun Appadurai dismissed McLuhan saying that he “overestimated the communitarian implications of the new media order.” Appadurai argued that media create communities without any sense of place. Observing both “fantasies” and “nightmares” predicting electronic equality, Appaduria sees the new media order “requiring theories of rootlessness, alienation, and psychological distance between individuals and groups.” Appadurai and McLuhan offer competing views on how to embrace technological advances. McLuhan sees a “global village” whereas Appadurai sees participants separated by psychological distance.
The followers of the Orange Revolution appear to exist in the more optimistic “global village” camp. The audience indeed created a “sense of place” and cared about the outcome of events, actively supporting the participants. The Internet’s ability to communicate over vast distances and across cultural barriers actually did some good in the case of Ukraine. Perhaps the Internet is making people in some parts of the world rootless and alienated, but not in the case of the Orange Revolution. In this case, the “global village” lived up to McLuhan’s prediction.
Academics can occasionally be quite pessimistic. Sometimes, it just depends upon which facts you focus.