CARVING ALTERNATIVE SPACES
This is not the age of pamphleteers. It is the age of the engineers. The spark-gap is mightier than the pen.
Do you agree with the above quotation? Before you decide, consider this case. In 2003, as the United States prepared to go to war in Iraq for the second time in little more than a decade, billions of people around the world awaited news of the first strikes. As aircraft streaked through the skies and troops hurtled across miles of desert, the attack inspired countless responses and personal reflections. Was the war morally justified? Would the Iraqis respond with chemical weapons? What was going on in Baghdad? In previous conflicts, most people would wait for traditional news media to sift through questions such as these, crafting their responses to second-hand accounts from events shrouded in the “fog of war. ” In the Internet Age, however, we did not depend on formal journalists to provide our only account of the war. The short attention spans of broadcast news programs and limited space of newspapers, even those promising to report “all the news fit to print, ” began to compete with self-styled journalists who used blogs to offer alternative views of the war.
In Baghdad, a 29-year-old blogger nicknamed Salam Pax challenged the assumption communicated by the Bush administration that Iraqi citizens would throng American troops immediately on their arrival, celebrating their liberation from the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein. Larsen (2003) quotes him as writing, “There are no waving masses of people welcoming the Americans nor are they surrendering by the thousands—People are doing what all of us are, sitting in their homes hoping that a bomb doesn't fall on them” (p. 26). Begun as an extended conversation with friends from architecture school, Salam Pax's blog became transformed into a vivid account of life in the crosshairs. Branded a tool of the CIA, pursued by the Iraqi secret police, Pax become an international sensation because of his ability to use the Internet to share his voice and reflect on his anger at both sides of the conflict. Recently, he has published a book of his missives and attained a striking degree of fame for his witty and acerbic blog. Suddenly, the scared and angry fellow hiding in his parent's house has become an author with a place for his words in bookstores around the world.
And Salam Pax is not alone. Today across the globe, activists who might have been shut out of the public arena have found a powerful tool in the Internet (Coombs, 1998). Certainly, this network of networks can be blocked by various means. Many companies protect themselves with firewalls—software and hardware barriers that restrict access to and from their internal networks. Many parents, schools, libraries, and