The other night, I saw a story on child hunger in the Central Africa Repulbic.
It was a rarity for any US news network to go to the CAR, and yet, there was Cynthia McFadden, my old classmate from Columbia J-School, reporting from Bangui.
"This is the most dangerous place in the world for childen", said Cynthia.
I was drawn to the story because I had actually been in the CAR, except then it was the CAE, The Central African Empire under Emperor Bokassa, but that was a long time ago.
The CAR does not get a lot of TV news coverage, and when it does, it tends to be stories about starvation, war or disease. In fact, most of Africa gets covered in the same way - war, disease and starvation. Reported that way, over and over again, it tends to leave the viewing public with a bad image of both the Central African Republic and of Africa in general.
For example, no one I know, (or anyone else knows for that matter), is planning on taking a vacation in Bangui. Neither is anyone planning on investing in The Central African Republic.
So the effect is self-enforcing. Keep showing stories about African poverty and no one is going to invest in Africa, so the poverty continue.
Now... we come to the title. How The Central African Republic could conquer the world.
This is not factitious.
In the Middle Ages,England was more or less the Central African Republic of Europe - poor, cold, wind-swept rock with little to commend itself. Also internally war torn; its population stricken with poverty and often hunger.
Yet in only a few hundred years, that same rock in the Atlantic would go on to rule and own 1/4 of the planet.
How did that happen?
The British were the first to 'get' the Industrial Revolution. They got there first. They embraced the new technology with a passion.
In the 1920s, Chairman Mao said, 'power flows from the barrel of a gun'. That was true in the 1920s, but it is not so true today. Today, power flows from the screen of a TV or a phone. What the Industrial Revolution was to Europe in the 17th Century, the Digital Revolution is to the world in the 21st.
He who controls the media controls the future.
Right now, NBC seemingly controls the media. So NBC tells the story of the Central African Republic to the world.
But.... there are some 5 million people in the CAR. Suppose, just hypothetically, that we gave 100,000 people there smartphones (they probably have them already), and taught them to create positive social media stories about the CAR every day. Think of this as a 21st Century Digital Army.
Then, suppose we unleashed those 100,000 people on the web every day, all the time, to flood the blogosphere with positive CAR stories, over and over.
Now, NBC does one story about the CAR maybe once a year (maybe once a decade). But now the CAR takes control of its own image in the world, instead of leaving it to the hands of NBC.
Do you begin to see the difference?
Do you begin to see the potential?
In the media business we still think in very linear ways - one reporter does one story once and we are done.
But in a world with 3.5 billion smart phones, that is very old thinking - like using spears when there are machine guns available. (See the Battle of Omdurman for an example of how Britain embraced this bit of tech first).
Could the CAR actualy conquer the world?
Could they change the way the world thinks of them?
This is derivative of a course that my wife Lisa and I will be teaching at Oxford University this summer- Using Modern Media For The Common Good