History, live and in real time
Watching my Twitter stream as things heat up in Syria, I have an uncanny childhood memory of my second coup d’etat. Twitter is a real time record of events as they happen, as experienced by people involved. Not even live blogging the Iraqi war can compare to the sheer amount of media from first hand witnesses communicated via Twitter.
In 1976 we had only radio, no Twitter. When the radio station was briefly taken over by rebels, we got a different picture of what was happening. We had no other media in which to ground ourselves and our view of what was happening outside. There was no TV. I guess the BBC was the only external news source available.
I was 9, living in Lagos, Nigeria with my parents who were expats in the construction industry. At the time, Nigeria was undergoing huge building programs, housing for all, that sort of thing. The failed coup d’etat that killed then president, Murtala Mohammed, wasn’t my first during the years I lived there, but it was the first one that involved bloody takeovers and confusion. The previous coup involved president, Yakubu Gowon, who was peacefully overthrown when he made the error of leaving the country for a visit of state.
At the time, local media consisted of a radio station, newspapers and sporadic television programming for several hours a day. My father, a history buff like me, took advantage of the rebel takeover of the radio station to record hours of their transmissions before they were captured. Of course we didn’t know how things would end and the broadcasts could just as easily have been the earliest messages from a new government. Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to my father’s pile of old tape recordings of the rebel’s few hours on the air. It was the best historical record of real time events possible under the circumstances.
Today there are no blank tapes to record radio announcements. Today we have Twitter. We have a running commentary on the topic of the moment, in the moment. History recorded in 140 character tweets. But this is our reality. Now we don’t have to wait until the coup begins. Now we can watch it get started as the country’s hash tags begin multiplying.
Today we have @Mohammad_Syria tweeting: OMG, it’s happening: Tearing Assad’s picture in #Daraa today http://bit.ly/i4m7DH #Syria #mar15 #Freedom