Renee Blodgett (@MagicSauceMedia) retweeted a post last night from Naseem Tarawnah (@tarawnah) a journalist in Amman, Jordan. Naseem Tarawnah offers a thoughtful, but somewhat pessimistic analysis of how people in the Arab States use (or don’t use) Social Media, and why it’s been rejected by some religious and intellectual leaders in Arab countries. Now I am a new student of the Middle East and will not pretend to fully understand the complexity of the issues described, though I’ve discussed them often with my husband, who is an expert in these matters (@AmbassadorNed). But I suspect that, much like here in the US, it all gets down to the difference between knowledge and information, and the power of harnessing collective intelligence.
I studied classics at a school with an extraordinary focus on the pursuit of knowledge achieved through rigorous questioning and critical thinking. All of our classes were taught seminar-style, with a focus on the text, rather than the teacher. From what I understand, the vast majority of schooling in the Arab World is based on rote-memorization and lectures, educational techniques which are not the best for cultivating the ability to question and challenge voices of authority.
For that reason, Social Media may be a perfect way for new writers and thinkers to express themselves, collaborate, and challenge the norm. Social Media offers the potential to engage in dialog with someone across the street or on the other side of the globe. It builds on itself, aggregating new insights along the way. And it amplifies the writers voice, as tweets are retweeted and links are shared. That’s a powerful tool, whether you’re an academic, a journalist or a small business looking to get the word out about your idea or product.
Without question a lot of garbage is created and time wasted. But as more people engage in social media, the tools are refined and the high-value conversations emerge.
Last month, one of the first large-scale acquisitions of an Arab Internet company occurred when Yahoo acquired Maktoob. Internet usage is experiencing double-digit growth in the Arab States and they’re rapidly adopting Social Media. Yet the 320M+ people of the region remain under-served by Internet services, with Arabic-language content accounting for less than 1% of all Internet content. (I was told by a Google executive that there’s less online content in Arabic than there is in Czech.) It’s about time the global technology community realized there’s enormous potential in the Arab States. The Maktoob-Yahoo deal, along with recent Google announcements, are putting the Arab technology and entrepreneur communities on the map.
But Naseem Tarawnah is right, the real innovation will be in the ways Jordanians, and Egyptians, and Tunisians, and everyone else across the Arab States use the Internet and Social Media to harness collective intelligence, share information and create new ideas.
Back in the 14th Century, when Europe was in the Dark Ages and the US didn’t exist, Arab intellectuals led the world, serving as a bridge from the Ancients to the Renaissance. I hope that Arab innovators, intellectuals, and entrepreneurs will use the Internet and Social Media to create another Golden Age.