I became a fan of شبكة راصد two days ago. It means Network Monitor in Arabic and it provides news feeds, pictures, and video of the events in Egypt. Of course, it is all in Arabic, so Google translations is critical. I am intrigued and interested in what is happening in Egypt for a number of reasons which include: a long-term affinity for North Africa; a fascination with what just occurred in Tunisia and the impact of mobile technology and social networks on the speed of change and how this relates to both macro-political lessons as well as more mundane enterprise technology lessons; and the fact that my mother happens to be floating on the Nile on a tour as I write and that she heads to Cairo on Saturday.
I received the following from شبكة راصد this morning which went out to all 350,000+ fans of this particular Facebook page.
Important Announcement | call upon all the Egyptians abroadtransfer these numbers and give them to your friends and families Egypt for posting them .. To send us events via SMS and help us be being our Correspondent in Egypt
Please do not contact numbers for any other reasons o……nly SMS
thank you very much for your support
I then heard on the news that the Egyptian government has shut down internet service across the nation and was working to quickly shut down all mobile networks. This will leave landlines as the only source of uncontrolled electronic communication within Egypt. The goal is to eliminate the tools the protestors are using to coordinate flash protest and to communicate their successes and government atrocities. So the question is – will it work?
I have a couple reactions.
I was in Bangkok in 2002 for the Black May protests working as a consultant in the Thai subsidiary of a major multinational. I sat in an office watching young female office workers – in their matching short skirted purple uniforms – receive faxes about the protests and then distribute the messages to their own office networks across the corporate fax. Newspapers were shut, the internet didn’t yet exist in any scale way, TV and radio were controlled by the government – yet in this wired world, there is always a way. SMS through international conduits as per the above message may be the fax machine of the Egyptian movement. Or maybe it will be another path. In Thailand once the army started shooting, and shoot they did, another Thai industry went into overdrive producing hundreds of thousands of bootleg videos of the atrocities and spreading these to the middle class whose reactions were to join the protests. The video also made its way to the King who ultimately stopped the army and forced a change to the government.
A second reaction relates to another North African country – Morocco – where I spent a couple weeks three years ago. A wonderful country with a benevolent monarch who traces his bloodline back to being a direct descendent of Mohammed. One of the lingering memories I have of Morocco – both of the cities and of the rural areas – is of satellite dishes and universal cell phone coverage (my Verizon phone coverage was better in the Atlas Mountains than the Adirondacks.) It was explained to me that Morocco has worked to solve certain challenges facing other developing countries including rural to urban migration by delivering urban technologies – including TV and phone coverage – to the population as a whole. Give the Moroccans their soccer in every living room and contentment levels rise considerably.
So in listening to the news reports of Egypt and of Mubarak’s decision to shut down the internet and mobile phone networks – all I could think of is Dire Straits singing “I want my mTV”. Facebook has become the new mTV – it’s addictive, it’s time consuming, it’s generational. The internet has become the new TV in terms of time spent and entertainment provided and mobile networks are simply the newest vehicle for internet access. In a youth driven uprising, limiting internet and mobile access may make organization more difficult but as the purple skirted office girls in Thailand proved – not impossible. The mistake by the Egyptian government may be that taking away internet and mobile is the ultimate act of tyranny against a Facebook generation. Such tyranny will likely drive youth who have been sitting on the sidelines joining into the fray. If the average Facebook user spends 421 minutes per month on Facebook and the younger users much more time than the average – with Facebook down and the internet down – the Egyptian government has created more time and more reason for the protests to continue. And now they have all lost something more tangible than democracy or freedom.
What message can we take away from the events of Tunisia, Egypt and event Thailand from 20 years ago. I can sum it up to youth driving change – in governments, in behaviors, in technologies, in adaptation overall. Politically this is fascinating and exciting. . . and a little scary. As entrepreneurs and investors focused on enterprise technology, we need to recognize that these mini-revolutions of technology are taking place in our offices, at our customers, and across the eco-system and we need to make sure that the most productive workers are not sitting at their desks thinking – “I want my mTV.” As a son with his mother potentially in harm’s way, I have to hope that calmer heads prevail and that a peaceful outcome can be achieved.