(Illustration: Cem Kızıltuğ)
Last week I took a taxi, and when you take a taxi in İstanbul distances are greatly increased thanks to the magnifying effect of traffic jams and nightmarish gridlocks. This makes it inevitable that you will have a simple but lengthy exchange over how nice the weather is, an existential polemical discussion, a deep philosophical question or, most commonly, politics with the cabbie.
I really don’t want to be yet another blogger who ruminates on his or her conversations with taxi-drivers, but my cabbie, an avid Justice and Development Party (AK Party) supporter, really asked me a good question. He loved the government. He said he was simply in awe of all the bridges, buildings, roads and other forest-killing activities the government has carried out to share the lucre with its allies and reward its minions and sycophantic cronies. He also said he didn’t understand all the fuss about Internet censorship. Our nation, he said, used to be a great society until the founding of the republic in 1923, but then we started to degenerate as a result of Western influence. He said YouTube and Twitter have been particularly instrumental in this mission to degenerate our society. Please understand that I am not trying to infantilize the cabbie, nor am I trying to be sarcastic because I don’t agree with his politics. I am writing down the exact opinions he stated during our not-so-brief conversation. And I am no stranger to the mindset of the AK Party voter (although, yes, we parted ways long ago with its supporters; everyone in the country has deleted each other from their friend lists on Facebook based on the very simple divide of whether they support the AK Party or not), so the conversation didn’t really surprise me, although certainly I found the discourse annoying.
But I couldn’t help but jump from my seat when he turned to me (and yes he did, but I didn’t jump because he wasn’t looking at the road) and said, “Can’t you have the Internet without YouTube and Twitter? Who needs those?” I was more than shocked, although in retrospect I can see very well that this assertion is part of a very consistent and coherent argument, and I shouldn’t have been taken aback like that. I found myself, in a panicky way, explaining, “No, no you can’t have the Internet without YouTube or Twitter. That’s not the Internet. Without those, you won’t know what anybody is up to, and you will fall into mediocrity.”
I spoke of friends who relied on YouTube to play lullabies for their children, I spoke of people like me, who need YouTube to watch videos on how to chop onions (or tomatoes and other fundamentals of the alien planet of all things culinary), I spoke of people who need to watch stand-up bits or sketches on YouTube to cheer up and others. I was trying to explain to him that YouTube is now part of our daily lives, and it is a part of the Internet (at least for now) and you can’t have one without the other.
Speaker after speaker at the Internet Ungovernance Forum (IUF) held last week in İstanbul showed that neither Google, the owner of YouTube, nor Twitter — whose top leadership was more than happy to hop on the first plane to Turkey when the microblogging site was shut down under orders from our Supreme Leader and work with our government to make sure that it stays open — or Facebook or any other major social media platform we use daily really love us, or care about our privacy. But they are there, and we use them, and we know what’s up, but we are not going to stop using them overnight. (If we ever will.)
The cabbie said his daughter will have a baby in 20 days; his first grandchild. He will most likely use YouTube extensively to play songs for the baby. (Like, how can you raise a child without YouTube?)
Yaşar Adanalı, a speaker at last week’s IUF and an urban rights activist, who is also one of the great people behind the Networks of Dispossession, which uses interactive maps to show the connections between all the people (government, media, corporations, et al.) who are stealing our future by killing our forests and drying our waters, said the government is not against the Internet. It just wants a gentrified Internet. The cabbie I talked with thought banning YouTube and Twitter would be enough to gentrify the Internet, and he knew that our Supreme Leader hates those two platforms, that’s why he tried to argue that we don’t need them.
Internet activists at the IUF, at least in one panel, discussed how to bridge the communication gap between rights activists and the not-insignificant majority who believe that the activists are really terrorists or coup-plotters, as governments like ours often claim . This is the major problem of all activism, of course. “No no, we are really the good guys.” How can you explain? I don’t know.
My own individual effort with the cabbie didn’t work too well. I said without following what the world is up to on social media sites like Twitter or on YouTube, our country would fall behind, and I really was not trying to be political, I really think it is a valid argument. The cabbie? He wasn’t impressed.