At the end of 2011, protesters challenging entrenched governments in Tunisia and Egypt had gained early momentum thanks to social media.
That Facebook and Twitter could play such a role in modern insurrections was unimagined by the founders of these social websites, and the whole notion of a website would be incomprehensible to Our Founding Fathers.
Where current and future events will lead is unclear, but if you transport these latest devices back more than 236 years, it’s not hard to imagine that earlier revolutions might have started in the same way.
Friend me, children, and you shall hear
Of the Twitterstream of Paul Revere.
In April of 1775
Hardly a man is now alive
who remembers the web was already here.
He said to his friend, “When the Brits intrude,
If by land or sea from the town they lurch,
Send a message to me from your iPhone, dude
I’ve got coverage up by the old North Church.
One tweet if by land and two tweets if by sea
And I on the opposite shore will be
Already connected to Facebook and Twitter
I’ll rally each farmer and rancher and knitter.
Assuming they all can arrange for a sitter.
Later, impatient and holding his cell,
All jumpy from Starbucks and eager as hell
on the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he’s tested his ringtone’s knell
Now five bars, his reception clear.
Checked his battery. It was charged.
His pounding heart was twice enlarged.
He searched for hashtags to hasten speed
#British, #man-o-war, #redcoats and #steed
The network was up, but was it corrupted?
Then quickly to life the device erupted.
“Brits go 4 #man-o-war, coming by sea
Revolution is here, P. Revere OMG!”
He copied this message, not missing a beat.
Proceeded it with an “RT” for “re-tweet”
And then closed up the phone. Revolution complete.
You know the rest. It was blogged. It was posted.
The Redcoats, defeated, were routed and toasted.
For social connections can work with a power
as potent as lanterns hung in a church tower.
A people, aggrieved, can now push for redress
in one hundred forty quick keystrokes or less.
Longfellow’s poem (which actually does include the word “twitter”), is as famous today for it’s inaccuracies as its narrative – evidence that a memorable simplicity must eventually succumb to a more complex truth.