Martha Carr’s column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at Martha@caglecartoons.com.
It’s only happened a few times in all of man’s history that an invention, which was known to be profound even at its inception, surpassed expectations and ended up reshaping all of history.
Usually, the invention has something to do with communication.
When the twentieth century was coming to a close, a lot of lists were compiled about the last thousand years, and the Gutenberg Printing Press was most often number one.
When Johannes Gutenberg invented moveable type around 1439, he made it possible for the first time to spread information quickly and cheaply to the masses.
Tyrants and dictators were no longer able to tell the people they ruled a little lie and expect the illusion to hold still. It didn’t take long for commoners, who had no power at all over any part of their lives, to realize the power that was suddenly in their hands.
The first newspapers began as one-sheets, and despite massive armies that tried to root out the anarchist printers, the information kept leaking out.
People realized there were different ways of doing things, and just over three hundred years later, the idea of democracy popped into someone’s head.
Since then, dictators got a handle on how to squash a free press and it became easier and easier to spread fear and lies about other countries, other ways of doing things or even make neighbors suspicious of each other.
Suspicion makes it harder to gather as a group and come up with new ideas.
Then a new invention came along in the 1990’s and was dubbed the Internet. We all saw right away that this was something important and would change everything.
However, none of us really guessed that what was really started as a way to make money would become the next means for the masses to start chatting again.
Social media started with MySpace and then Facebook, followed by Twitter and YouTube, and now, Google has entered the picture with Google+. And there are dozens of other types of gathering places popping up every day.
A lot of us laughed at all of the nonsense, saying that people were wasting their time with all of this virtual how-do-you-do. Experts said people would become isolated and stop socializing in person. Mostly it was seen as a necessary bother for businesses, and just a bother for the rest of us.
But then a strange thing happened in December last year, when a man burned himself to death in Tunisia, and Facebook and Twitter lit up with responses back and forth about what it all meant.
Then other Middle Eastern countries followed with protests till we saw people gathering in the streets of Iran wearing green wristbands in solidarity, despite efforts by the government to shut down communication.
The Arab Spring had begun and continues even now with the demise of Muammar Gaddafi, who oppressed Libya for four decades.
The hum of information and ideas has even spread to America where an Occupation of Main Street, which began on Wall Street has taken root. Every day the protesters are joined by new members as others send financial support, and almost all of it is being translated across the Internet.
Postings of people holding up signs that describe their current financial situation with the ending, “We are the 99 Percent” are being passed around Facebook every day.
It started with college students adding up their college debt and what they have to do to keep up with debt repayment, but has spread to war veterans and middleclass wage earners with kids who are trying to make ends meet.
The messages are short, simple and very powerful and are becoming a wave of change that no one has been able to squelch so far, although more than a few politicians and pundits have tried.
As much as those in power may want to shape or manipulate this message, the speed and reach of social media is making it impossible.
This may be a very interesting American Winter.
Tweet me @MarthaRandolph with your views on the Occupation and Social Media.
Martha’s column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at Martha@caglecartoons.com.