In the last two months, the Middle East and Africa have been rocked by a series of revolutions and protests across several countries. The folding of the Tunisian government inspired citizens in other regions to rise up in peaceful defiance to their own corrupt governments and demand expansive reformations. Through the turmoil, much of the focus has been on the key part social media has played in supporting and strengthening the solidarity and communication of the countries’ citizens.
Egyptian-American Laila Shereen Sakr is a media artist who explores the impact social media has had on Egypt through her work as VJ Um Amel. In her investigations of the media, she has come to the conclusion that our contemporary world is one that is not only moderated, but also constructed and defined, by the media. Culture is engineered through different levels of communication and expression.
In her application of different remix and data visualization techniques, Sakr developed a body of work that puts into perspective both the revolution and how it has been shaped by the current media environment. Her work uses hashtagged Twitter conversations collected by the Twitter analytics site R-Shief as its raw material and YouTube videos that highlight key aspects of the events.
Sakr’s work experiments with the concept of a database narrative, whereby existent information is not manipulated into a story, but represented and enhanced by special effects to illustrate naturally occurring narratives. Even the visualizations that lack a video element portray a narrative logic that is reflective of the interactions among Twitter users during the protests. She takes the idea one step further in the remixed visualization “What the World Tweeted on #Egypt the Day Mubarak Resigned.” Calling it more “data poetic” than narrative, Sakr means for it to be a “sentimental analysis” in its flowing assemblage of important words, phrases, and crescendoing electronic soundtrack. The progressive accumulation of words is intoned with the excitement protesters felt on the historic day.
VJing in this sense is less of a multimedia spectacle, but a new kind of filmmaking that culls its material from various sources to discover meaning by remixing what is already available. An array of interfaces accessing several streams of information converge to map out a broad picture that still retains the integrity of the actual events. Patterns emerge in the conflux of data that would otherwise be obscured by the sheer immensity of what was gathered. Sakr collected a staggering 800,000 tweets for #Jan25 alone, and as she notes, “Just as large numbers of Egyptians were flooding the streets of Egyptian cities throughout the country, pedabytes of data were mediated through various networks.”