Technology, TV & Time
Twenty-odd years ago, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, I was serving in the Commerce Department as Assistant Deputy Secretary under Secretary Bob Mosbacher. Each night, scuds rained down on Israel. And each morning, my sister, unable to reach her in-laws in Tel Aviv, called me in Washington to see whether I had received any briefings about the goings-on 10,000 miles away.
I told her to hold on and turned on the television in my office. (TV sets and cable were a new phenomenon in administration offices in those days.) All's well, I said.
She probably thought I had some unique insight. But all I'd done was flip to CNN.
Ted Turner's round-the-clock news channel, the first of its kind, had launched in 1980, and it came of age the next year, emerging as the most reliable and trusted source of news about the Gulf conflict.
It was CNN that cabinet secretaries and decision-makers turned to when we needed real-time information from the Gulf.
Thanks to CNN, Time magazine's editors pointed out later that year, "the very definition of news was rewritten-from something that has happened to something that is happening at the very moment you are hearing of it." Turner was named TIME's Person of the Year.
Fast-forward almost 20 years to 2011, and technology is making headlines once again.
In January, more than 85,000 protesters pledged on Facebook to attend an anti-government rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square. A month later, Hosni Mubarak's 30-year dictatorship was over.
Discontent had simmered in Egypt for decades, but it was Facebook that enabled a political movement (with Al Jazeera TV playing "wingman") to finally coalesce and topple the government, for the most part peacefully.
The Egyptian government's initial defensive maneuver to shut down the Internet only forced more protesters into the streets. At the same time, though, it showed that the power of technology isn't monopolized by the masses.
It is more than poetic that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg was named TIME Person of the Year in 2010.
Another interesting technology intended for entertainment is now changing the world once again. And technology will continue to do so.
In a relatively low-profile story, technology recently claimed another triumph when the Stuxnet computer virus was used to significantly damage Iran's nuclear program. Stuxnet is one smart virus - not only did it take out a uranium-processing plant, it hid itself from detection for three whole months while doing so. It was probably history's first Internet-borne military strike; The New York Times called Stuxnet "the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed."
So technology has graduated from facilitating the flow of news to making the news itself.
The pace of development is unprecedented, and much of it is crystallizing in the Middle East before our very eyes.
Just a little perspective and respect for the medium we serve.