What stood out to me in the first article I consulted, was the discussion of the formation of culture by means of different levels of communication and expression. By understanding the creation of culture in this way, incredible weight is given to emergent mass communication platforms. Throughout her investigations of social media, VJ Um Amel has found that media does not only moderate our contemporary world, but it actually constructs and defines it!
VJ Um Amel focuses specifically on the impact that social media has had on Egypt and the revolutions in the Arab world. By using Twitter hashtags, VJ Um Amel finds naturally occurring narratives in the media environment by looking at which tags pop up most frequently at a certain point in time, and in which context those words are getting used. This process does not manipulate or corrupt the data, but rather it enhances what is already there. VJ Um Amel refers to it as a “data poetic” rather than a narrative (which is interesting because narrative alludes to something being linear, so calling it a poetic goes beautifully against the very notion of linear hegemonic constructions of history), suggesting a more fluid and emotional experience of the data. VJ Um Amel entrenches our senses into the poetic by creating an audio-visual experience for the viewer (which perhaps seeks to emulate the emotional experience that frequently accompanies the very production of a Twitter post?).
What VJ Um Amel does is special because it allows us to uncover important information that would normally be impossible to collect given the sheer amount of data available on these electronic media platforms.
The second article I consulted, written by VJ Um Amel herself, goes more deeply into the importance of analyzing electronic data from social media in order to understand the deeper political and social implications of the usage of these mediums during momentous events. VJ Um Amel notes that analyzing social media closely will help us to more accurately write history. One quotation especially stood out to me:
“When you put these little gems of information together we get a new picture that challenges the accepted portrayal of political resistance in the region.”
What VJ Um Amel is doing is very interesting because history is frequently written from the perspective of the dominant group, and many voices are drowned out in the effort to write a linear, hegemonic account of history. What is so special about people’s newfound access to social media is that now, more than ever before, people have a chance to have their voices included in the process of social formations and the shaping of public discourse. With the rapid emergence of influential mass communication technologies, our social landscape is changing tremendously and VJ Um Amel’s work is crucial to rethinking the way we conceive of the creation of historical narratives going into the future (perhaps ‘narrative’ is the wrong word as it insinuate a linear process).
In the final article I read, what I found striking is what Laila Shareen Sakr says about the experience of being an Egyptian-American during the revolutions in the Arab world. Sakr speaks of the guilt that comes from not being present in her country of origin at the time when the revolutions took place. She says that many of the reasons why she moved to America were because of the problems that caused many people to revolt. What is powerful then about social media, is also the profound way in which it works to maintain a community, to sustain one’s consciousness of the discourses taking place in back home, not only on a massive scale but also on an individual level, and perhaps consequentially maintains that sense of belonging despite physical distance.