May 1968 and our transistors - The 2011 Egyptian Revolution with the Web
From time to time, memories come back forcefully and I can’t help but compare events that shook my life directly or indirectly. You know, it happens when you can’t help but think that life will never be the same again.
I do not know yet how Egyptian politics will evolve but I do hope that freedom will become a potent tool in changing attitudes in the country itself, in the Arabic world and in our Western world.
I spent a lot of time glued to my computer trying to get all the news I could find. I went from one website to another. I no longer was surfing the Net. It was more like becoming integrated into a vast crowd where everybody was continually trying to communicate and to share whatever was learnt, said, heard or read.
Most of the exchanges went through Facebook and Twitter. I do not twit and until Egypt went through turmoil, Twitter really made me mad. Not all the time but a lot.
Sometimes, while eating out, I sat close to people who couldn’t care less about what was going on in the real world but kept twitting (twittering?) with their friends just to let them know they were eating out. I really thought it was a weird way of living.
I once wrote that I love Facebook. This was quite ironic, of course but since I mellowed my remarks, nobody seemed to notice which is just as well.
I have since come to my senses (no irony there) because Facebook played quite a remarkable part in the Egyptian Revolution. It really showed how useful and powerful it can be as a social and political network.
Of course, my dear Aesop can’t be proved wrong even there.
So I spent 18 days and more (since it all started for me in Tunisia) totally immersed in new and modern technology and liking it a lot.
I really wondered what would have happened in times well past if we had been using all this technology so many take for granted nowadays.
I still remember what 'May 1968' was like.
No home computers. No cellular phones. No phones at all in most French homes.
We did live through a revolution then. When life went back to normal, normalcy became totally different. The French society had suddenly been turned upside down somehow. Life would never be the same, for better or for worse but there was no possible reversal.
Life would never be the same... Tonight, I’m not trying to sing praises about May 1968.
The 'revolution' in France actually took much longer - almost one whole year. May 1968 was quite violent with students’ uprising and street fights and general strikes. This is the reason why everybody keeps calling this period - May 68.
So back to May 1968. No television (on strike), no State radio channels (on strike). And no FM radios. At the time, there was a private radio station called Europe 1 (on LW). It still exists but it sure has aged badly.
I remember spending every moment I was awake listening to my transistor. Europe 1 and its newsmen were very busy. They were the only people who could tell us what was really happening in Paris and elsewhere.
It was always live, day and night.
I was living down south at the time. My university was too far away for me to spend time (demonstrate) there. No trains. No nothing. So I was back in my hometown where there were daily demonstrations and from time to time clashes with the police.
We spent most of our time listening to the radio. The transistors were small. We carried them around because this was how we kept being informed about what was going on in our area as well as in other places in France.
I’ll never forget the day when a journalist announced live from Paris that our president, ‘le général de Gaulle’, had flown away from France to an unknown destination. Newsmen were getting very excited. Raspy voices. Worried tones.
I’ll never forget the day the general came back to tell us to go back to work. (He had made sure that he would be backed by the Army.) I still don’t understand how France avoided a real revolution with a lot of bloodshed.
Of course, it was on the radio that the president announced new elections, therefore calming down all rebellion.
I really wonder today what would have happened if the students who started the May 68 movement had had access to the Web.
The transistors were great to tell us what to do in our very difficult daily life. They would tell us which part of Paris to avoid (or where to go to fight the police!), what was going on generally speaking... but there was no interaction.
We listened to voices and we were silent so to speak. We had no means to express ourselves. No means to know what to do.
Even if we sound awfully noisy when you listen to old recordings of our fights on the Paris barricades or our meetings in 'occupied' universities and schools.
I was 20 in 1968... but I felt very young following the Egyptian Revolution from my computer, through Facebook and Twitter and many, many channels, so many!
It felt so great to listen to so many young people who dared to express their ideas, their hopes and their beliefs to the entire world.
It felt so great.
*Good Luck, and Good Night*