Philippa Thomas Online

Exploring what we say and how we say it.


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The Shape of Revolutions?

How much do we mistake the technology for the story?

I’m always fascinated by the way in which social media networks connect activists and amplify their voices. But plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – how about this observation by New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik ?

“Twitter, spitting out its brief public messages, is given credit for making revolutions – and certainly, throughout the Arab Spring and the Ukrainian and Iranian near-Springs the instant news shared by its tweets raced around the crowds and helped order its actions. But in truth, every popular social revolution since at least the French one has followed (I think) the same pattern – a government weakened by war or financial crisis or both meets popular resistance, which for the first time takes in members of the elite and the masses. They find a meeting space – it could be Tahrir Square or a French real tennis court – and occupy it. Then, in the crucial moment, the army, called on to disperse the mob, identifies with the cause and refuses. The government is forced to surrender. Then, time after time, the best organised of the militant minorities takes over – and then, in 18th Century France or 21st Century Egypt, there is a contest to see if the militant minority can dominate the army or if the army will destroy the militant minority. Whether texted and twittered or papered and pamphleted, the shape of revolution is about the same.”

It’s part of his BBC essay this week – on why HE doesn’t tweet.

 

 


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“The New Middle East” – an eyewitness account.

Trying to take the long view on the fallout from the Arab Uprisings?  Here’s my holiday reading.  Paul Danahar’s “The New Middle East”  uncovers the forces behind the turbulence – religious, economic, historic.  

It also reads in part like a geopolitical thriller because, for much of the time, he was there  - in Tahrir Square with the revolutionaries; in Libya talking to Gaddafi and then seeing the dictator’s brutalized body; witnessing the horror, hatred and hunger that’s destroying Syria.

Continue reading


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The End of Big – a wake-up call #EOB

“Here Comes Everybody” wrote Clay Shirky, tech evangelist, five years ago. He’s a cheerleader for the radical empowerment offered by the internet  - new voices, direct access, more ideas, a swirl of intellectual and political ferment. 

Here comes another book on the impact of the internet which takes the next step.  Nicco Mele’s “The End of Big” pithily summarises the impact of what he terms “radical connectivity – our breathtaking ability to send vast amounts of data instantly, constantly and globally.”

But from the preview extracts I’ve read, it poses sobering questions about what happens next, when Big Institutions get undercut. You know the drill. Free blogs undercut paid news. Online protest, old-fashioned politics. Music sharing, record labels.  You Tube uploads, the film studios. 3D printing, traditional supply chains. And so on.  As Nicco Mele puts it, “radical connectivity is toxic to conventional power structures”.

But if and when the big guys have gone…  Mele asks us to look harder at what we will lose.  “We can’t fetishize technology and say ‘to hell with our institutions’ without suffering terrible consequences.”  Continue reading


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High fives

Quick thought.  I just read Jill Ruddock‘s “high-five” rules for good health (via an Evening Standard piece on health reform). Her book, “The Second Half of Your Life”, is aimed at women, but the memo works all round.

- Keep in touch with family and friends.

- Think of others.

- Cultivate a passion.

- Exercise

- Eat well

It reminds me of  Anthony Clare’s Seven Steps to Happiness.

Who cares if cliches are cliches, if they keep you going stronger for longer?


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When it’s not good to be followed

I love talking on Twitter. I love being followed on Twitter. But I’m realising that more doesn’t always mean better.  Which is why I’ve just cut my numbers.  

Am I behind the curve here? I wonder how many of you already act to filter out fake follows.  

I noticed on Tuesday that something odd was going on. Continue reading


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Is it really so bad to be American? On “Time to Start Thinking”.

Is it really so bad to be American? 

“Faith in America’s promise is at the heart of America’s story”. 

There’s not much evidence of that faith in Edward Luce’s epic analysis of “America and the Spectre of Decline”.  But as the title has it, “Time to Start Thinking”.  Right now, Obama and the Republicans aren’t thinking, but fighting over the looming fiscal cliff.  Luce urges them to the long view. By 2020, China might overtake the USA as the world’s biggest economy.  

It’s an excellent read: clear, crisp, packed full of original interviews.  It matters, because as Luce quotes Samuel Huntingdon, America “can only be a disappointment because it is also a hope”.

The book focusses on three key disappointments –  in manufacturing, innovation, and education.  Continue reading

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