EARLIER this week, I came across a YouTube video which showed an eight-year-old girl in Egypt being asked what advice she would give to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

“I would tell him …,” she starts off tentatively, “to remove that law about letting him be the president forever and let them vote – to let the people of Egypt vote.”

The message is clear-cut and direct; what else would you expect from an 8-year-old?

“Oh and, by the way, some of your police officers removed their jackets and they’re joining the people,” she quips at the end, with a look of pure, mischievous innocence.

This column isn’t a political commentary on what’s going on over in Egypt (if you want to know more, try Google). Instead, I wonder how we got to the point where an eight-year-old girl can have her message to her President having been viewed by over 50,000 people (and counting)?

Of course, this in itself isn’t even the big news. We have seen so many similar videos – taking a political stance – which that has gone viral.

What’s interesting to me is how this video got out just a mere two days after Egypt had blocked the Internet as a result of rising call for President Mubarak’s resignation.

Not too long ago, New York Times writer Malcolm Gladwell penned an article that basically said the Internet was all talk but little action. He essentially said that people post and talk about things on the Internet, but such actions have little impact in the offline world.

He’s right, to a point. Too often, we think about the Internet as endless stories about this gadget or this product or that piece of celebrity gossip or a series of pokes.

Frivolous and consumerist: “Check out this new app, we give it an A++++.” Sometimes, esoteric: “The impact of the Internet on humandkind is…”

We used to think of the Internet as a sort of virtual space, disconnected from “skin and bones reality. Nerds go there to hideaway and play “pretend” with videogames and such.

But the scenario rising around Egypt is showing this is changing. This time, the Internet is getting real; with real action taking place around it and as a result of the “talk.”

Why else would the Egyptian government block the Internet? CNN has reported that the cut-off is mainly aimed at blocking communications between protestors as social networks have become key tools in organising rallies and demonstrations. The talk isn’t just virtual anymore. It’s facilitating real action.

And it isn’t just the political arena that’s realising this. Yes, it’s interesting that our very own Prime Minister (or at least his PR people) is using Twitter and a blog to communicate with the rakyat, but we’re also seeing campaigns where people are gathering together to enact some social change.

Here’s an example I’ve seen that’s sprung up entirely generically. A group of civic minded Malaysians gathering together on our local forums to participate in the Folding@Home Project (

What the Folding@Home Project does is it seeks out volunteers who will install a programme onto their PC and allow that programme to use up its extra CPU power, idle time, electricity and Internet connection, to contribute to a worldwide grid that’s calculating the human genome. It’s real-world participation in a virtual space, and actually does a lot of good.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Many of us still use the Internet as entertainment, and maybe that’s the way it’s been sold to us but I’d like to see more people taking on this Internet-thing, and using it for social good.

Instead of only looking at is as a consumerist tool, use it for good. Ask, “What change can I inspire?”

*David Lian is both virtual and real. You can catch him virtually on or in the real world at … wait … you didn’t really think he’d give you his address, did you?

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