Celebrated historian Gordon S. Wood described Common Sense, as “the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era”. Paine’s historic pamphlet is commonly attributed in helping set the wheels of the Revolutionary War in motion. By targeting a popular audience and writing in a simple and straightforward way, Paine made political ideas palpable to a common audience. This catalyzed the inclusion of average Americans in political debate, and ultimately riled them to a historical cause.
Today, no matter how well written, enlightening, and impassioned a pamphlet or any other form of distributive literature may be, could it create the same impact as a viral YouTube video, mass texting, or a barrage of tweets as seen in the Egyptian Revolution?
One of the reasons Paine’s work was so successful was that the audience of his time thought his work pithy and to the point. Yet today, it would be nothing short of a miracle to see a mass of people read and act on a pamphlet… it seems almost impossible to imagine any written literature sparking a revolution in today’s 140 characters-or-less society . This holds especially true in light of the Egyptian Revolution, where Facebook and Twitter became the common medium for decimating information and sparking insurrection.
Its simply mindboggling to think that Paine’s influential words made just as much of an impact as the one-lined collective tweets of Egypt. The medium has gone from impassioned lines of rhetoric that read “Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived!” (Paine, Common Sense) to that of, “Yo Tunisia, I’m happy for you, and I’ma let you finish, but Egypt had one of the best revolutions of all time!” (tweeted during the Egyptian Revolution by @onlyforegypt).
Twitter and Facebook are remarkable tools for revolutionaries because of two main reasons. First, they are the most efficient way to distribute information. With the click of a link, billions of people can receive information, and it can come from anyone. This makes it almost impossible to suppress revolutionary ideas, and even if a nation censors its own Internet access, it cannot stop the rest of the world from looking on and continuing the dialogue. Secondly, Facebook and Twitter become an entity that unifies a movement in the most concrete way possible. Revolutionaries can literally see their strength in numbers by the amount of followers they have online. Aside from just spreading information, they can also receive it to gauge what the masses think, and what they are saying.
Ultimately it seems as though the future of revolutions no longer lay in the hands of single revolutionary figures. The days of the Paine’s, Guevara’s, and Ghaddafi’s are over, and in its place comes the collective voice of the oppressed. The concept of revolution is undergoing a revolution itself, and for the first time in history, the power of change truly and literally lays in the many voices of the people.
To get an interesting visual on how the tweets influenced Egypts future, be sure to check out this video on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2guKJfvq4uI