A Century and a half ago when there was a revolution in India – they called it revolt or Mutiny, signals were passed from village to village via a humble chapati(Indian flatbread). The most everyday personal thing you could think of. The chapati was passed from village to village (not the same one presumably) and the act meant that you were in.
In the recent mumbai blasts, social networking sites such as twitter played a similar role. There has been much written on the role of twitter in conventional media and the blogosphere, can be quoted here. Mumbaikars who saw the event were reporting live, journalists were checking facts, blood was being arranged for hospitals, lists of the dead and injured were being compiled. Much good was done, more importantly, much energy and anger was channelised.
There is a lot that is similar between twitter and the humble chapati. Both were social media enterprises. Both were tools that were not originally designed for this purpose but were only the daily stuff of life. Both were intensely personal, tactile even. The chapati literaly is daily bread – you smell it, taste it, feel it and it feeds your hunger. Twitter too is close to the daily lives of many. They take breaks in their day to tweet, they connect with friends. The keyboard is their path to friendships, to information and feeds their social needs.
Both are mildly aspirational.
The chapati was shared amongst rural folk – many of whom were not sure if they could feed their family in the next season. It represented present achievement and future economic security. Twitter too represents a moment of technological gluttony, of satisfied achievement. You sit and chat on twitter (or tweet) when you are at a computer at leisure, even if for a couple of minutes. Your basic needs have been met and now it is time to move up the Maslow. The conversation represents the chance to be seen, be heard by millions. It is a way to get to know those who would not be easy to intereact with in the normal world. It represents future social mobility, something you could have got, and wanted, but were not sure of.
The chapati and the social networking sites are also fairly egalitarian. The chapati represented the lowest common denominator amongst rural folk, everyone could join in. Twitter too is amongst the easiest of all social networking sites – lowest common denominator for the internet generation.
It is a true meritocracy on twitter too – you grab attention by your wit, not by who you are. That, for me is social change. Power to the chapati, for it was the bringer of much that was good. And power to social networking too, for it has the potential to be the tool that helps us change for the better.