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I’ve been chided for my mindless participation in social networking. One very time-consuming endeavor is the 365 Project, a web site for both amateur and professional photographers. Participants upload one image per day for one year. There are few rules and little structure but I have discovered that there is a world of talent and creativity associated with the project. I regularly interact with people ranging from 20-somethings to 60-somethings and from all parts of the world. Our interests, skills, and knowledge vary enormously. In the process of sharing our photographic successes and failures, we also get to know each other in more personal ways. We learn that someone’s child is critically ill, or someone has just lost a job or is about to launch a new career, or is struggling to pay tuition. In short, we become involved with one another. The result is a caring community of supporters and a greatly enhanced engagement with what is going on around our planet.

Take yesterday, for example. February 1, 2011: I went merrily about my day. I researched a new camera lens, caught up on my blog reading list—which seems to be spiraling beyond my grasp— read a bit from 1491, New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann, and went to my circuit training exercise class. Just another average day. 

Photo: Eileen Black

Meanwhile, a snow storm of epic proportions was hurtling eastward across the United States. The storm would cancel 14,000 airline flights, maroon cars on freeways, and generally disrupt life for millions of Americans.

 U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

Off the northern coast of Australia, winds of over 175 miles per hour were pushing Cyclone Yasi towards Queensland. My Australian 365 friend described the storm as nearly the size of the United States. I struggle to get my head around the immensity of this fact.

As if all that weren’t enough, Egypt was in the throes of a peaceful populist revolution. By evening, when Egyptian President Mubarak failed to step down, millions of citizens, gathered shoulder-to-shoulder in Tahrir Square, clashed with Mubarak supporters. Reports claim that the supporters were bussed to “Revolutionary Square,” as it was dubbed. These Mubarak supporters roared into the thickly crowded street mounted on horses and camels, and wielding stones, clubs, fists and Molotov cocktails. Pandemonium erupted while the Egyptian military laid low.

Dalia, a young 365’er, describes Armageddon during the hours in which the Internet was down.

“In the resort I live in, all of the men and boys got out with their dogs and weapons to protect us, and they’re going on shifts until now, and they said if anything happened one man would horn and all others would continuously to let us know that there is something so as not to go out. There were many false alarms, and every time there was a false alarm I freaked out.I was ready to lose my house. I had it all planned in mind. If they came to our place, I am going to hide my valuable things in my clothes, I am going to take my family, and we’re going to leave the house. Because they killed people who stood in their way. I’ve been spending the last few days sleeping with my clothes on, with my bag beside me, ready for anything to happen. … So far nothing happened to my family and I, but we’re still not fully safe. Men are still going on shifts, we still sleep with weapons beside us, but I think that things are finally getting better.”

 Goran Tomasevic, Reuters

As of news time on February 2, officially 600 Egyptians have been wounded and three are dead. I suspect these estimates are low. I predict this rebellion to rival those of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Boston Tea Party. Without Dalia’s first-hand report, I might believe reports from Mubarak’s administration that claim the demonstrators are a minority, that 90% of the people stand behind Mubarak. But I know better. I’ve seen photos. I’ve seen old and infirm people standing with families and young students, all crying out for a voice, for relief from an administration that resorts to violence in silencing opposition.

During this tumultuous weather and the infancy of a revolution, my life has chugged along as placidly as a leaf floating in a pond. I enjoyed my morning coffee, went snowboarding, and lunched with a friend. What amazing irony, that my peace and calm coexist with utter despair, death, and destruction in some other part of the world. It is easy to say that social networking is a mindless and pointless waste of time and imagination. But nothing brings reality home more than the voices and images from my friends around the country. They are like spirits that hold me close and inform me of another way of life. They are one more blessing in an already blessed life.