Twitter Democracy and the Starbucks Experience

I was reflecting recently on the political upheaval in Egypt and how Twitter and Facebook seem to be organizing tools of preference for Egyptian citizens seeking greater political, social and economic freedoms. While one certainly is moved by events in Egypt, I am skeptical that Twitter is the ultimate “democracy tool” that many in our pop-culture media seem so joyous to promote.

In fairness, how many people can afford a smart phone in Egypt with average wages of $2 a day? Also, while I would love to believe that people are tweeting about such as topics as “democracy,” “individual rights,” “torture,” “education,” or “job creation,” Twitter trends suggest something radically different. Found below are the top ten Twitter trends for February 7th, 2011:

1. #superbowl (promoted)

2. #idontunderstandwhy (new)

3. #aristegui (new)

4. Gary Moore (new)

5. FEMME FATALE (unchanged)

6. Green & Yellow (unchanged)

7. MVS (new)

8. Puppy Bowl (new)

9. Robert Kubica (new)

10. National Anthem (new)

While these are important topics for many Americans, it is unlikely that politicans in DC or big business will alter the way they conduct business or discuss Afghanistan or the budget deficit in a civil manner. I mean, what politician is going to fault Christina Aguilera for not getting the words to the National Anthem correct at the Super Bowl? Fergie (whoever that is) certainly isn’t. To paraphrase a tongue-in-cheek British organizational manual, “think small and the big things will take care of themselves.” Let’s face it, Twitter is more about entertainment than education or communication, so I wish the talking-heads in the media would stop pretending that tweets reflect the will of the people.  On second thought, maybe tweets really do.   That’s certainly a disturbing thought.   

When I think back to the passionate discussions of “life,” “love,” “peace,” and “war” during the Viet Nam era, I can’t help but be reminded that these discussions often took place in bars and cafes that somewhat resembled the scene in ABC Cafe in Les Miserables. In ABC Cafe, students were gathering to man the barricades in Paris in a call to social action while the lovelorn Marius was articulating his love for Closette (Red and Black). In contrast to Les Miserables, see the young woman below describe the benefits of WiFi at Starbucks:

Starbucks WiFi en Yahoo! Video

I would like to think that those in Starbucks sipping their lattes and logged in to their social media accounts are engaged in worthwhile communication. However, I suspect downloading a popular tune or tweeting about your impressions of  Superbowl Ads are perhaps more important than talking to your neighbor at the next table. When the world is seen through the optics of social media, it is a pretty dreary place indeed.

This article is republished with slight revisions, from an article I recently published on the Stationers Guild.   This is a “food for thought” article rather than a “food article.”   Sorry, but even digital writers sometimes must indulge themselves in nostalgia. 

Richard W. May
Stationers Guild


  1. A tad cynical, no? Or at least depressing. Fergie…we’ve already had this discussion. Nine – ricorda ti?

  2. Ah, that Fergie! Seems like she has lost a bit of weight. Is she the one who sang at the Superbowl?

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