—SMS— Sent: Feb 6, 2011 10:25 AM Subject: Jst entered tahrir via… Jst entered tahrir via champollion. 3 or 4 barricades. Feels like 1848. But still festive. Fami-lies here. Thousands milling abt. Am outside kfc dis-cussing ikhwan latest statement. Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange
The text message above records the moment I crossed into Tahrir Square. I sent it to a friend back in London while squatting on my heels on the dusty pavement underneath Colonel Sanders’ beaming face, listening to a group of socialist activists planning their intervention in the day’s protests. My physical presence had, of course, been preceded by intensive virtual surveillance: via Al-Jazeera’s fixed camera overlooking the square, via mobile phone footage on YouTube, via tweets, via emails, via blogs, via Flickr, via video and reports from the Egyptian press, via Facebook updates. I’d already spent hours studying the chants, the home-made placards and banners, the demands and statements of the organisations present in the Square.
Thanks to a combination of ubiquitous social media and the designation of the revolution as a global media event of epic proportions, I had been able to construct for myself a digitally-enhanced view of the uprising, turning myself temporarily into a kind of cyborg, with a panoptical vision spliced together from multiple physical and political vantage points.
Yet despite this prior knowledge and preparation my mind was still reeling from the impact of the things I hadn’t seen or fully understood with my digital eyes: the construction of the barricades, the organisation of the checkpoints, the complex interactions between audiences and speakers at the stages, and above all the emotions and moods of the crowd. The crunch of stones beneath my feet all the way down Champollion Street, a reminder that the liberation of the Square, only forty-eight hours before my arrival, had rested on the throwing arms of its defenders as they hurled rocks to fight off attacks by government thugs.