By Kevin McDonough
PBS examines the ties that bind, and bend. Social media may make us feel that we're connected like never before, but the host of tonight's three-part series "Niall Ferguson's Networld" (8 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., TV-PG, check …
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PBS examines the ties that bind, and bend. Social media may make us feel that we're connected like never before, but the host of tonight's three-part series "Niall Ferguson's Networld" (8 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., TV-PG, check local listings) argues that social networks have long existed and have been a crucial contributor to both social harmony and political disruption.
Developed as a way for college classmates to connect, Facebook and its imitators insinuated themselves into people's lives rather quickly. It reached a global impact almost immediately. Reports that Facebook and Twitter had been used widely in street protests in Iran in 2009 and in Egypt in 2011 gave many a notion that social networks were a liberating force. A scant five years later, reports that Facebook had been weaponized to affect elections in the U.K. and U.S. warned many of the divisive nature of social network tribalism.
The author of "The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook," Ferguson argues that not only have social networks long existed, but that humans may be hard-wired to create them.
Communication may be quicker in a wired world, Ferguson asserts, but networks helped spread messages even at the speed of horseback. He cites the example of Paul Revere's ride in 1775. Not only did he warn Boston compatriots of the British arrival, he found a receptive audience in his fellow Freemasons, the social network of influential thinkers during the Enlightenment and the dawn of the American experience.
Changes in communication technology often shatter old social networks and help new ones rise. Had Martin Luther written his theses a century earlier, his anti-Papal protests may have fallen on deaf ears. But his use of the newly invented printing press and the literate culture it had engendered helped his message spread.
It's a long way from Gutenberg to Facebook, but Ferguson argues that the template remains the same.
Some communication developments that seem almost forgettable can have major historical impact. The Iranian revolution of 1978-79 seemed to arrive overnight. One small footnote to that political earthquake involved the ayatollah's use of a relatively modern technology to disseminate his reactionary theology. The widespread use of tape players in the 1970s allowed his message to spread one cassette at a time.
"Networld" is a challenging series, offering viewers a survey course in communications, manipulation, consensus-building and revolution.
• TCM celebrates St. Patrick's Day with 24 hours of movies about Ireland and the Irish. The characters tend to fall in familiar stereotypes, ranging from the mystical and mysterious to battlers and brawlers or hardened rebels against British rule.
TONIGHT'S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
• Kit needs TLC on "The Resident" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
• Randall wonders what could have been on "This Is Us" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
• Cookie and her sisters have dark secrets on "Empire" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
• A thrill-kill couple go on an interstate spree on "FBI: Most Wanted" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
• A viral video needs corralling on "New Amsterdam" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
• Aaron's moral quandary on "For Life" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).
Ben goes clean-shaven on "The Conners" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-14) * Sunshine brings the heat on "The Flash" (8 p.m., CW, TV-PG) * Free advice on "Bless This Mess" (8:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * A kidnapping victim acts rashly on "FBI" (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) * Questions of taste on "mixed-ish" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * The Loom of Fate is no dream weaver on "DC's Legends of Tomorrow" (9 p.m., CW, TV-14) * An invitation to quarrel on "black-ish" (9:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
Dax Shepard is on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS, r) * Jimmy Fallon welcomes Ice-T, Maisie Williams and Body Count on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC) * Andrew Rannells and Tate McRae visit "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (12:35 a.m., NBC).
© 2020, United Feature Syndicate
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