By Donnamarie Leemann – Head of Marketing at Adarve Translations
Please forgive the classical references, I’ll get around to Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook shortly.
The idea of shooting the messenger first appears in recorded literature in ancient Greek writings such as Plutarch’s “Lives,” and Sophocles’ “Antigone.” Shakespeare makes oblique reference to shooting the messenger in both “Henry IV, Part II,” and in “Anthony and Cleopatra.”
Wikipedia says: “A modern version of attacking the messenger can be seen when persons…blame the media for presenting bad news… The fact remains that shooting the messenger may be a time-honored emotional response to unwelcome news, but it is not a very effective method of remaining well-informed.”
In modern times, rulers who wish to shoot the messenger might wish to remain well-informed themselves. What they wish to prevent at all costs are their subject populations from being well-informed. They also wish to prevent those subject populations from communicating the message to others. Many modern rulers will go to great lengths to keep their subject populations ignorant and incommunicado.
Take, for example, the fact that the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently banned both Twitter and YouTube. In the first instance he was responding to people reporting on Twitter a corruption scandal involving him and his son. In the second he was claiming that the broadcast of a recording of a confidential ministry-level meeting amounted to espionage (or treason, depending upon the nationality of the person who posted the message).
Erdogan shut the sites down and he thereby shot the messengers. But he couldn’t shoot the messengers dead. Within minutes of the shutdowns, alternate avenues of connection had opened up. Some entirely new ways of connectivity emerged. Erdogan actually strengthened Twitter by causing its users to have to innovate to get around his interdiction. These new methods were immediately employed when he shot down the YouTube messenger. I for one can’t wait to see what the social-networking savvy Turkish people do when Erdogan shuts down Facebook.
The Turkish Prime Minister’s gun is loaded and aimed, but it does not have the range or scope to kill the messenger, to stifle communication in our inter-connected world. I heard a report today, on a reputable, fact-checking news platform, that Twitter usage in Turkey increased by 300% soon after Erdogan “shut down” Twitter.
It is no accident of timing that Erdogan has taken this action when Turkish elections are looming. I think that, rather than shooting the messenger, Erdogan has shot himself in the foot.
George Orwell, in his classic book “1984” sent a chilling message about totalitarian surveillance: “Big Brother is watching you.” Rulers like Erdogan, Putin, Kim Jung II, the Chinese Communist Party and their ilk have yet to overcome their totalitarian mindset. Happily, most of the rest of us have. Once upon a time it was only the rulers who could command surveillance and interdict communication. Nowadays, we are all watching each other all the time and we have become so adept at achieving communication that even the most powerful bosses are hard put to interfere with the give-and-take of information. For the most part and for most of us, it isn’t about paranoia or control of land or the imposition of political or religious ideas. It is about communication, about social interchange, about our daily business of living.
We share information, with words and pictures captured on and transmitted by our mobile devices. The vast majority of us are not engaged in nefarious political, religious or terrorist plots, we’re just saying “Hello, here I am, this is what I am doing, where are you, how are you and what are you doing?”
For some little time to come, it will still be possible for Putin to interrupt Ukrainian news broadcasts. The Iranians will be able to sequester at least some of the interchange their population wishes to engage in, as will the Chinese, North Koreans and, it appears, the once-upon-a-time and perhaps-only-in-name democratic Turkish government.
We think of the World Wide Web as the major focus for electronic communications. I believe that we often forget that each and every computer, tablet, smart phone and plain “old-fashioned” mobile phone is a pixel on a much larger screen.
No matter how retrograde some societies and leaders are, eventually all those pixels will be omnipresent. There will be no way that anyone, anywhere, can put the brakes on inter-human communication. There will be too many pixels, too close together. We will then all be messengers, and we will become bullet-proof. The old-fashioned guys can fire away, and they will make some hits, but they will only be able to knock out a few pixels.
They might still be able to shoot the messenger, but they will no longer be able to kill the message. It’s past time that retrograde rulers lower their weapons when messengers appear. Shooting the messenger no longer works, not when an attempt to shoot the messenger results in a 300% increase in the spread of that message.
Prime Minister Erdogan can get himself back on a democratic and rational track, or he can engage in the age-old rite of shooting the messenger à la Plutarch, Sophocles and Shakespeare.
In the end, he is only shooting himself in the foot, while the savvy and connected Turkish population pixelates all round him.
Adriana and her team can translate pretty much anything at all, from icons to pantomime to references to ancient Greek and Elizabethan plays. Or an insurance question, a problem with your divorce lawyer, or trouble with a school guidance counselor. They can sort out citizenship and immigration problems, smooth over difficulties in a master’s thesis, and help you communicate with a group boycotting the bad decisions made by misguided leaders in your ancestral homeland or elsewhere.
I am a messenger. Please don’t shoot me. Adriana is a translator: more power to her and her co-workers. We rarely celebrate the easily accessible and simple modern Rosetta Stone that translators are. We should do.
They not only make possible rapid and affordable translations. Without them, the reporting of world news and the exercise of international commerce, diplomacy and much more would be impossible.
All the best,
Donnamarie Leemann, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
About the Author: Donnamarie Leemann is an artist and writer who has for many years contributed to the BBC and to many other public forums, and who collaborates at present with Adarve Translations as Head of Marketing.