February 18, 2011

HOW I STOPPED RESISTING TWITTER, WHY THE RETWEET IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT INVENTIONS OF MODERN HISTORY AND WHY I LOVE NEVINE ZAKI

I hated Twitter. There. I said it. Hated it. Could not stand it. Didn't understand why anybody would, could, should reduce complex thinking to a soundbite worse than anything you could find on Fox News, CNN or in any cable news crawl that would give you nothing more than a tease, nothing of substance.

It appeared to be one of those inventions that was ready made for fat, self-involved and arrogant assholes, which is to say executives, teens and celebrities, although not necessary in that order. To "follow" Ashtron Kutcher? Who the fuck gives a shit about what he has to say? To "update" your own life by stating that you had three scoops of ice cream and it tasted pretty well?

WTF? as my nephew would say.

I had a Twitter account, by the way of somebody I barely knew and who "invited" me to "follow" her. And being somewhat curious, I made an account and immediately disliked it. And stopped using it. After one tweet, I believe.

Why use something, I always say, if you have nothing to say, and by saying that I mean to say something important, something that furthers dialogue or at least gives you more than shallow attempts at self-reflection?

Even the struggle in Iran last year did little to change my mind. A lot of those things went over my head, and hell, I am an anti-social person to begin with. I did use Twitter every once in a while, to essentially test the tech, to see how you would write a little "headline" with a link to my blog (shamesless self-promotion? Yes, but also me trying to test out what the damn big deal was)

That all changed. It changed because our corporate media was not doing its job. When Egypt happened, almost everything I could see was the typical shots, the typical set-ups of large masses that - if you didn't know this was a protest, that there were actual people down there on the ground fighting for their freedom - could have very well have been a rave. A party. A celebration of the World Cup Soccer finals, for all I knew, complete with sports-event commentary provided by the usual suspects.

It wasn't real. It was in a box. With lights and wires. And could have happened just as well on the other side of the moon. But this time I did remember what had happened in Iran before. How these kids, these brave, stupid, wonderful kids out there tried to organise, tried to give each other a voice, tried to tell the world that was too busy with other things to listen...

... and I logged onto Twitter. And started floating in the data stream. The real data stream, not the bullshit that was flooded with Lindsay Lohan, with Justin Bieber or with the latest Rihanna cell phone self-portrait (hey, I am kinda naked, but not really).

I searched for Egypt. And it was on a special day. It was quite by accident that she came up first. That her tweet was the one that had been the latest. It was a woman in Cairo.

Her name is Nevine Zaki.

I don't know her. And this here may very well embarrass the living hell out of her. But she told the world, to everybody who cared enough to listen that she took a picture. That this picture showed Christians protecting Muslims during prayer. During a time of chaos. During a time when all we could see in the West were the masses, the theoretical abstract of what was happening in Cairo at the time.

And I looked at the photo.

And I began to cry. I hadn't cried in a very long time, but this simple photograph felt like somebody had reached deep inside my gut. And I cried until the screen blurred in front of me. It was the simplicity of it. It was the fact that there was somebody there, somebody out there, and amidst all of the and things that were about to break loose, without any of them knowing whether they would all make it, she chose to photograph this.

A simple scene. A simple photo.

And a symbol of everything that is right with humanity. She was out there, Nevine Zaki, and she was brave and she chose to show all of us this moment that otherwise might have been lost, might otherwise not have been known to us, who are so far away from it all and have emotions filtered through television and our own daily struggles.

Who have it easy, too easy to look away.

But I couldn't. I couldn't look away. Because now I knew that they were real, and I began to listen to them, and tried to amplify their signal, to add my own little voice to their chorus, not to present myself, no, but to attempt to spread their signal, if only one bit and one byte at a time.

They are like us, Nevine Zaki's photo told me, and while I had known this, obviously, I had only known this in the abstract sense, the way you know things when you observe and analyse, which are the things I am really good at. Not emotional connections. I suck at those. Because if and when I open up, I cannot stop that flood. It's all or nothing, I have that condition, and overall, the "nothing" serves me better than the "all".

I looked at the photo for a long time.

I listened to their thoughts, to their prayers, to their dreams and hopes and wishes.

And I sat down to write. Not well, I might add, for sometimes words are just that, words, and nothing - I believe - can ever come close to that desert wind that moved all of the desert roses at once, that rose up from the sand and the dusty streets and for the first time in a long time was powerful enough, strong enough to reach the heavens.

I cannot express the depth of what I felt.

And down in that depth, I saw a light. And it became stronger and it couldn't be stopped, couldn't be whipped, couldn't be stoned, couldn't be shot, for that light is what is in all of us, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists.

Nevine Zaki made me see it. She doesn't know that she did, and she never will. And that's okay. I hope she has, in the words of my favourite Doctor, a brilliant life. She has earned it. They all have. Even though their struggle is far from over, it never is, they have given themselves something that nobody else can give them.

Hope.

Without a leader. Without an ideology. Without anything other than that moment, captured by Miss Zaki. Hope. It is a funny thing, that word is. I once told someone that "hope" is the most disgusting PR things ever invented in the human language, for to feel hope you first must accept that nothing you personally can do is going to have any effect on the outcome. Thus it is with the St. Mary's Hail. With the moment you are down in the ditches. Or in the trenches, when all you have left is "hope". Because everything else has left you.

But the people in Egypt, they didn't wait. They didn't pray. They claimed it. They gave it to each other, in those moments they treated the wounded with care, in those moments they fixed food for those who held out in Tahrir Square, in those moments they cried silently for those who were murdered. They carried each other. Dozens of them. Hundreds. Then thousands. Then millions.

Carrying each other.

Protecting each other. Giving each other what nobody else can give you. Hope. That there will be another day. A better day. A better tomorrow. And I reached out to some of them, not by much, only a little, to let them know. That we are also with them. That we are here.

That we are not our governments. That we are like them. That we cared, even if our leaders do not. And for 18 Days (and shouldn't that be a book title?), at least parts of this world became one, through digital whispers and retweets, the easiest, fastes way ever invented to amplify a single word, a single sentence, a single feeling.

The struggle is not over. It may never be. Like I said in my last post, there are others out there now, who were given what the Egyptian people, proudly and defiantly standing against a murderours torturer, had given to each other. Hope. That things can change. That it is possible.

Hope and change.

That used to be the slogan of a US Senator, who doesn't know what it means. Who used it to further himself and who has done nothing to give anybody in the Middle East hope, nor has he changed anything. Because for him it was a bumper sticker.

But it is more than that.

It means you first need to find hope and then need to change.

It is not a simple collection of two words, it is a dream and then a demand.

Hope. And change.

Those who struggled have done both.

It is up to us to follow them. Not just on Twitter.

But in real life.