You could say I am a child of the revolution. When my grandfather immigrated to America in 1918, Russia was still reeling from the downfall of Czar Nicholas II. This people’s revolution, which immediately installed a provisional government, proved too weak to hold power. Late in the fall of 1917, the Soviets — councils of workers and peasants — overthrew the standing government in what we know as the Bolshevik Revolution.
So my fascination with history as it relates to social change comes naturally. When I was in elementary school, my family was stationed in France, which afforded us the opportunity to tour cold-war Europe. To this day, I can still remember the personal impact of our first trip to Berlin, a city divided down the middle by a concrete and steel wall.
Of course, at age seven I really didn’t understand the implications of the Berlin Wall and the ideology for which it was created. As an impressionable youngster, all I remember is that it appeared to be a 90-foot black monolith that stretched forever and would stand just as long. When the Wall fell in November of 1989, here I was — a man in his early 30s experiencing the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and witnessing a revolution I thought I’d never see in my lifetime.
The influx of Western culture via movies, television, music, books and newspapers ignited the Velvet Revolution in the other Communist Bloc countries. Estonian students revolted; western-leaning Solidarity members were elected to Poland’s government; and more than two million people from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined hands along a 1,000 mile stretch of road between Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius to proclaim their freedom. This was social networking 1980s-style.
Compared to what is happening in Iran today, this was revolution at a snail’s pace. There were no cell phones capturing the bloody protests. No Facebook exchanges from East to West. Not a Tweet was heard. But still, social media certainly was the impetus for political and social change.
Today’s technology enables social networks to be nearly omnipresent. Its distributed network can arouse passion in the masses and create sympathy among allies. Technology has shrunk our world into a series of sound bites, test messages and YouTube video snips.
For the most part, I find this communication revolution evasive and a bit annoying. But when framed in the context of Iranian students rallying in the streets of Tehran — followed by the haunting cell phone image of a dying female student, Neda, sprawled in a pool of her own blood — social networking is life-altering.
Iran supposedly is the third-largest blogging nation in the world, which comes as no surprise when you consider more than 70 percent of its population is under the age of 30. It is a demographic that has grown up on social networks and has learned to bypass the repressive regime’s traditional media sources. Today’s revolutionaries are able to set up their own broadcast networks using mobile technology to spread the message to both their sympathizers and to all of us around the world. It is truly remarkable.
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Just a note of interest for those security and loss prevention directors out there — since he autographed my copy, I feel compelled to plug a new book from my colleague Tim Giles. The fact that it is one of the best texts I’ve read in my 24 years in the field had nothing to do with it!
His book, “How to Develop and Implement a Security Master Plan” is a resource I highly recommend. I usually don’t plug security books, but Tim’s experience as a past Director of Security for IBM North and Latin America and Asia Pacific, along with his recent consulting experience, provides him a level expertise few can match.