The notion of the distant, uninvolved and uninvested nerd has taken a well deserved beating in the last few years. But archetypes have an amazing tenancity, even when they've outgrown their value. I wonder if the notion of the empathy-free computer weirdo will survive the Egyptian uprising.
Geeks have helped cut off Egyptians get back online and remain witnesses during a trying time; they've arranged crowdsourced translations of tweets sent in via another geeky guerrilla tool; and now, one of them has single-handedly resuscitated a flagging uprising.
During his imprisonment, the executive could not communicate with anyone. Once he was released, however, he talked with a number of independent Egyptian television news channels. His example and words seem to have had a tangible effect on the commitment of the protesters. The hundreds of thousands in Cairo's Tahrir Square is apparently the largest turnout yet. The numbers of people out in Egypt had tapered off the previous few days.
Ghonim would be the last one to credit himself with "single-handedly" doing anything. He cautioned anyone against calling him a hero. And he's right. Not only is this not Ghonim's revolution, it's not Twitter's either, not Facebook's not even the geeks'. It's the people's uprising in as pure a form as anyone could hope to see it.
That said, however, individuals, as well as groups, have their parts to play. Anyone who favors a deterministic view of history would probably find Ghonim something of a fly in the ointment. But, it really is the Egyptian people responding to something of themselves they see in the Google exec.
Ghonim's emotional honesty, his criticism of the interior minister who facilitated his release (no Stockholm Syndrome for Ghonim), his refusal to allow himself to take the place of the people in the media consciousness - all of that seems to have inspired the better angels of the Egyptian people. If Ghonim is kept blindfolded and incommunicado for over a week in a security service cell and come out a functional human who still believes in the power of the people, can they do any less?
We attempted to ask Mr. Ghonim a few questions, but he tweeted that he does not speak to foreign media.