Food, Water, Shelter & Internet

“Twenty-one-year-old Ahmed talked about how…depriving him of Facebook would be like ‘blocking air to my lungs.’ The social networking site had become an extension of his social, political, psychological, and even spiritual life.” (Herrera, 347)

This is quite different than the narrative David Cronenberg poses in his 1983 hallucinatory Videodrome, the film Professor Siegel screened for the first week in his Media Criticism course. The hero’s journey, in the case, is a gradual fusion between flesh and media technology, played out in the most damming manner imaginable—the idea being that the more we consume media, eventually the media will consume us (and be the death of us).

Just as we cannot take Western SMT’s findings and airdrop them into the MENA region, neither can we effectively apply Western medium theory towards these non-Western social structures. If our Western understanding of medium theory is that new digital mediums are helping collapse our brains into themselves—with numbing onslaughts of distractions and unfinished thoughts—forcing our brains to ‘multitask’, and desaturating the effectuality of everything we ‘do’, then what the paragons of key revolutions in the MENA region have taught us is that the new social medium, Internet, operates on the human brain in varying way around the globe. Decontextualizing the role social media play in Western society and into the authoritarian sociopolitical landscape of, say, Egypt is key in starting to comprehend what effect such a swath of global information and far-reaching, free, instantaneous communication tools can have on the lawfully repressed human mind.

Whereas social media for the ‘Wired Generation’ of the West ‘fill in the blanks’ of our daily lives, turning a five-minute wait for coffee into what seems like a split-second trip into our personal media consumption hole, a platform such as Facebook can occupy the negative space in the experiential reality of an Egyptian young person. In a reality in which external forces are constantly attempting to define an individual, to generalize her, to rob her of agency, to author this person’s beliefs and control her thoughts, an outlet of free information exchange—something we all take for granted, to the point where we may dismiss great works of art in exchange for the latest Buzzfeed article because it ‘entertains’ us more and requires less of our effort—can fill her with life, with purpose, with ideas and identity. Unrestricted Internet access for everyone is the contemporary equivalent to mass-produced books—it brings knowledge to those lacking agency, bringing self-awareness to their collective abilities to demand freedom.