Tweets from Tahrir , a small paperback containing — mostly — English-language tweets sent by people on the ground in Cairo during this winter's Egyptian uprising is unexpectedly poignant and moving, and even exciting and suspenseful in places.
Obviously only a small minority of those in Tahrir Square were tweeting in English (and a larger minority were tweeting at all), but through this book, a picture of Twitter as a means of quickly bridging together different constituencies emerges — not everyone was tweeting, but everyone knew people who were tweeting, whether they were in the Square, discovering what was going on elsewhere among the hundreds of thousands of people; or elsewhere in Cairo and wondering if they should take to the streets; or watching from around the world. Twitter, text messages, Facebook and phone calls became a way of shaping the narrative, rebutting the official state media, arguing about the purpose and character of the uprising, and deciding when to hold fast and when to retreat. You get a real sense of Twitter as a thin, somewhat unreliable nervous system that nevertheless turns a crowd into a group capable of explicitly negotiating its actions rather than simply surging to and fro.
Threaded through the tweets are commentary and introductions for context. Through these we learn that the activists who found utility in Twitter really, really got into it (one tweeter published 60,000 words in 140-character bursts during the uprising). We also see the way that Twitter starts off as an "alternative press" but quickly expands its role, and how the global reach of Twitter allows activists on the ground to communicate directly with foreign sympathizers (including other revolutionaries in the Middle East), the foreign press, and Egyptian expatriates around the world.
We also follow the arc of an Internet blackout, as the Mubarak regime shuts down the Internet, a desperate bid to shut down the revolution at any cost, even the millions of dollars that Egypt's economy lost every day that nation was offline. The blackout's effect is visceral, the few tweets squeezed out through dialups and other workarounds, followed by a dam-bursting when the network comes back up.
Tweets from Tahrir is an extraordinary record of an extraordinary moment in history, a collection of first-person observations and reflections that took place in realtime that constitute a new kind of record of social upheaval.