Reassuringly cuddly platitude coiner Thomas Friedman is a very respected and influential interpreter of world events. Not for his insight into these events, but for his ability to make up a name for them that his fans—children—can understand.
Seems like there's been a lot of news in the world lately. News about revolutions, and uprisings, and citizen revolts, in Africa and the Middle East and Eastern Europe. What ties all of these disparate and politically nuanced events together? Thomas Friedman knows: it is the fact they took place in a square.
Well, a decade later, as the I.T. revolution and globalization have been democratized and diffused — as we've gone from laptops for elites to smartphones for everyone, from networking for the lucky few at Davos to Facebook for all and from only the rich heard in the halls of power to everyone being able to talk back to their leaders on Twitter — a new global political force is aborning, bigger and more important than Davos Men. I call them The Square People.
They are mostly young, aspiring to a higher standard of living and more liberty, seeking either reform or revolution (depending on their existing government), connected to one another either by massing in squares or through virtual squares or both, and united less by a common program and more by a shared direction they want their societies to go. We've seen them now in the squares of Tunis, Cairo, Istanbul, New Delhi, Damascus, Tripoli, Beirut, Sana, Tehran, Moscow, Rio, Tel Aviv and Kiev, as well as in the virtual squares of Saudi Arabia, China and Vietnam.
What is it that links the protesters of Egypt to those in Brazil, and Ukraine, and Russia? It is not their political aims or economic station in life; rather, the most important characteristic they share is the number of sides bounding the piece of public land that they use as their headquarters. (A square.)
This square may be "virtual," if necessary. It sure isn't a god damn triangle though, that's for sure.
Indeed, "The Square" — as the place for these newly networked political forces to gather, collaborate and pressure for change — is truly disrupting both traditional politics and geopolitics. But the big thing to watch going forward is which Square People can go from disruption to construction — can take the energy and inchoate aspirations of their Square followers and turn them into parties, elections and better governance.
Have you ever wondered why it is that any moderately sensible person knows that popular uprisings and revolutions must be followed by governance in order to truly succeed, yet Thomas Friedman is paid vast sums of money and lauded far and wide for stating that very plain and unremarkable fact? The reason is this: only Thomas Friedman was smart enough to point out that these things happen in a square. And once Thomas Friedman has rebranded mundane events with a buzzword like Square, he can then apply his trademark Grab Bag of Terms Vaguely Related to Computers—in this case "disruption," which is a rhetorical signal to readers that, yes, Thomas Friedman has paid a visit to the offices of a Silicon Valley internet firm at some point in the past decade, and the lunch that they served him was downright delicious, thank you very much!
Squares. Think about it.