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The old magazines were always full of letters to the editor; different letters put together by the editor together with photos of the readers resembling mug shots! In these letters, the reader would introduce himself and state his name, age, address and talk about his hobbies, and most of time these were reading and socializing. The word “socializing” has always caught my attention and increased my curiosity about the “desire” in humans that pushes perfect strangers to introduce themselves through mass mediums such as magazines and to declare their personal interest in becoming acquainted with any of other readers.

Later on in the United States, I watched how Americans and Arab students on scholarships used to use the play with the old wireless communication device known as the CB which was capable of picking up radio signals transmitted by lorry drivers and police cars. The device enables users to engage in dialogue with strangers and exchange opinions, advice and information. Such technology continued to develop until it reached its present state-of-the-art form that allows millions to join virtual groups on large social networking sites and to establish virtual friendships. Through these friendships, online groups with diverse interests in serious and light issues were gradually built and formed new kinds of loyalties and allegiances with strong numbers but it had no tangible effect on the street until now. These sites are continuously developing and improving, and gaining greater momentum. Today, they are having a considerable effect on the current political and economic situation; they now constitute a force for demonstration and protest as is the case in Iran, a force for consumer boycott as is the case in Saudi Arabia regarding auto traders, and a force for social change as is the case in Egypt regarding female harassment etc.

Different social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace and websites of immediate communication like Twitter and others present news, information and updates in less than 164 words. You can get the latest news on the country or the issue that interests you, your favourite celebrity or sports team etc. You can receive messages via email or text message from the website (or check your email account from your phone!) You can receive any piece of information within seconds before it turns into a major news item on news sites, news agencies or in print. But this technology can also help spread lies, [false] information and rumours; there is no doubt about that.

The world is on the verge of unlimited access to an overflow of information and news. Boundaries between news, information and rumours will gradually disappear. People will find it difficult to differentiate between them and will probably become confused, especially in light of the “magnitude” and “density” of news carriers. It will prove impossible for ministerial and supervisory bodies to control and censor this endless flood of information.

This is unknown territory. Legal and supervisory experiments [to control these new forms of media] are still in very early stages. These forms of media are built up by virtual groups. Bit by bit they eliminate the concept of privacy as well as individual and state borders and as a result, the traditional concept of sovereignty will dwindle.

A lot of news is circulated via SMS, email and social networking websites. The stories and commentaries that spread via Twitter are a clear reflection of our times. Dismissals and resignations of high-profile officials, election results, weather forecasts, sports updates and economic briefs are read in a flash by thousands and thousands of followers of those sites. What lies ahead is amazing. Some seized these economic opportunities and made fortunes out of them; others are bound to accumulate even larger gains. It is the new economy in its mightiest form.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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