Observers of the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries in the Arab world have focused with great excitement on the role played by new media, suggesting the events demonstrate the power of social networks to build a revolution. The rebellion, they say, was a uniquely 21st-century product of Twitter, Facebook and even Wikileaks. The reality, however, is much more complex. Many factors came into play to unleash the chain reaction that came crashing into Cairo's Tahrir Square. Some of those factors are as new as the iPhone, others as old as the slingshot. But what made the long-simmering popular resentment against the government build and come together with such force was the convergence of these disparate factors, all driven by the world's continuing integration -- the process we know as globalization.
The uprisings may have important links to Silicon Valley. But they are just as closely tied to events and decisions in places as seemingly unrelated as Australia, Pakistan, Washington and Beijing.
Among the forces propelling the revolt is one that has received little attention: the worldwide spiraling of food prices. Oppression is more easily endured when it comes with prosperity; when it is accompanied instead by worsening poverty and hunger, the seeds of discontent start sprouting. When anger and frustration reach the bursting point, it overpowers the fear of confronting a repressive regime's brutality. It is that fear that had prevented the people from revolting years, even decades earlier.