Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The World Saw

Leonard Pitts, Jr. on the new way to see the world.

Maybe you were there when Neda died.

If you were, you saw a tragedy, of course — a 26-year-old Iranian protester gunned down in the streets. But I am convinced you also saw the future — a profound change in the way you and I will henceforth comprehend the world.

Many of us — your humble correspondent prominent among them — have been less than impressed with the ubiquity of social-networking websites. Spurred by reports of congresspersons who tweet banalities during a presidential speech, of cyber-bullying and flash mobs, we have regarded them as an engine of vanity and inanity, a mirror reflecting the utter vapidity of much of American life and culture.

In this judgment, we have been exactly right. And also exactly wrong.

This is not to say that social-networking media have not been guilty of dumbing down the discourse. But it is to admit the obvious lesson of recent days: They can facilitate higher purposes as well. For this reality, the cause of human freedom can be grateful.

After all, when angry Iranian voters took to the streets to protest a stolen presidential election last week and were clubbed and shot in retaliation, the events could easily have been a non-story in the rest of the world, given that Iran had placed heavy restrictions on foreign reporters. But what the theocratic regime had not counted on was that ordinary Iranians armed with camcorders, laptops and cellphones would document the unrest or that it would make its way to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other web places where people connect.

This is perhaps why the ink-stained wretches and blow-dried mannequins of the print and broadcast channels were aghast when the president called on a blogger for the Huffington Post at his press conference yesterday. (The irony is that this outrage is being transmitted around the world via blogs.)

No one likes to be caught behind the curve, and the reporters’ resentment and accusations that somehow the fix was in for Huffington Post is probably their way of covering up their chagrin at being so 2005. The worst part is that it took a tragedy like the murder of a woman on the streets of Tehran to make them aware of it.