One year into the revolutionary wave of pro-democracy protests across the Middle East, Arab activists, scholars and commentators continue to debate the root causes and dynamics behind the so-called "Arab Spring". But one thing most everyone agrees on is the importance of new media technologies in enabling young activists to outsmart, out-organise and outmanoeuvre once seemingly all-powerful governments.
The first generation of internet technologies - email, chat rooms, list-serves, search engines, and the online availability of sources of information and knowledge that previously were largely kept from public view - enabled the unprecedented transformation of small, often underground activist communities into virtual public spheres. Despite the best efforts of governments across the region, these "immaterial publics" proved hard to police, and ultimately impossible censor or shut down.
Their virtual nature enabled activists, within individual countries and across the region, to communicate, strategise and coordinate with each other as well as with supporters globally. What could be termed new Media 1.0 encouraged not merely the sharing of new ideas but the building of new identities and solidarities that grew more robust and powerful with each passing year.
The second generation of increasingly wireless, internet-related technologies - smart phones, lap tops, miniature video cameras, and the myriad vehicles for instantaneous communication offered by social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter - took the connectivity of virtual public spheres to new and politically explosive levels. Specifically, they enabled activists to move from the chat room to the streets by prying open to public display the violence that previously was visited upon activists and ordinary citizens behind closed doors, or in view of only small numbers of people.
The ability to record and transmit anywhere, in real time and without censorship, meant the underground was suddenly everywhere - the political margins could suddenly move into the mainstream.
The Arab world would never be the same.