The chat window popped up. It was a work colleague of mine, an assistant editor. He can be very silly sometimes, but he is a very good journalist.
“I need to consult you on something,” he wrote. “It is for my final test assignment.”
“OK. What is it?” I answered warily. I know that he is back to school again, for a master degree on communications. Even though I do read some journalism theory, I know jack all about communications. I learned physics at the university (institute, actually), and as a journalist I largely cover IT topics.
“It is about ‘cybersocial'”.
I didn’t know what he meant by that, so I asked him to clarify. “It is about Facebook phenomenon. Does it change the pattern of communication in Indonesia?”
I was already afraid he would throw in some communications science jargon I never know here. Pattern of communication? What’s that? Perhaps it’s really a jargon, perhaps not. I don’t know. Fortunately he explained more. “I can see that facebook phenomenon can pressure SBY (the President) to free the KPK commissioners. Now, how big actually the pressure that can be generated by the cyberworld?”
Now that is interesting topic. I thought he asked the wrong question though. Medium is the message and all that, but I don’t really view that Facebook or cyberworld in general is that special. I see that cyberworld actions generally have analogues in “real world”. Also, “cyberworld” doesn’t exist independently to the “real world”. Even if you do actions in cyberworld, it is nothing when you don’t do real world actions.
I do think Internet has large impact though. “It is easier to organise people and propagate ideas in cyberworld”, I told him. “In the past, it was harder. You’ve got to write and print tracts and pamphlets for spreading information, perhaps call up people. Now you can do it just by update your status. Lots of people instantly get your message. More friends you have on Facebook means more people get to know. The message is also faster to propagate. You can also forward and quote other people status. It is actually easier and more common to do it by Twitter though.”
I also told him the necessity of follow-up actions. Spreading information is not enough. You need to do something. In Bibit-Chandra case, it was demonstrations. Or concerts. Or in Prita’s case, collecting coins. The Internet can be useful, and sometimes critical in this step too. For example, in Prita’s case a website serves as authoritative source of information that is needed for coin collecting. It lists the locations of coin collecting points (which later can be tweeted or spread by Facebook link). Theoretically, IRC or chats conference could also be used for virtual meetings, although I am pretty sure the coordination in Prita’s case, or Bibit-Chandra’s case was done face-to-face. In any case, I am pretty sure they use the Internet to help organise the movement. You can gather more people more quickly this way. In the past it would be hard to get support from one million people. It is doable, perhaps, but it will be much slower.
“So the key is speed,” he said. “It is, and I think it is also because it is easier. In the past people may care about some important issue, but can’t show it. It is much easier right now. You just join a Facebook group. Or tweet and put in a hashtag. The barrier to participation is very low now. In the past you have to write a letter to editor, or join protests.”
At this point, perhaps satisfied by my opinions, he changed subject and told me some silly stories. Which is not really worth retelling here.