Less than a week ago, the South African government denied the Dalai Lama a visa, which he sought in order to visit the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. South Africa has close trade ties with the Chinese government and officially recognizes “One China,” and given the Lama is the human face on the Tibetan quest for independence, it would’ve strained the South African-Chinese relationship if the Dalai Lama was allowed to visit.
Instead, as Mashable reported, the two leaders signed themselves up for Google+ and used the “Hangout” feature to discuss matters via a webcam and microphone from their home countries, digitally circumventing the visa denial.
This is an interesting and important development in the way that political figures connect with one another. The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop could’ve easily called one another on the phone, but instead they saw some advantage to the face-to-face contact that webcams can provide.
The Dalai Lama has long been an avid user of social media, boasting over 2.5 million Twitter followers (@DalaiLama), and many political activists or national leaders have reached out to the public over YouTube, including Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma.
This is something more, something new. The two activists could have easily called one another on the telephone, but instead, they saw some additional value in the face-to-face contact afforded by webcams and microphones. They also made the Hangout public, allowing unfiltered access to their conversation. The pair used social media to get around the geographical and political limitations of reality and connected directly with each other and the world, and that’s an outstanding innovation in global communication.
Where can this go from here? Political activists across the world can use Social Media to connect with one another, share ideas and draw inspiration without crossing any border while maintaining very nearly the same level of closeness they could achieve with an in-person meeting. They could also, as the Archbishop and the Lama have done, open up these conversations to a public audience for the world’s benefit, allowing all to grow intellectually from their exchange of ideas.
Overall, it’s a minor event which I believe signals a much more significant trend in the cross-cultural and cross-border exchange of ideas and information.
Written while listening to: Polish Girl – Neon Indian, Era Extraña