Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fragments: A Riot of Technology

The economist had several articles on the riots in Great Britain and one of these, "The Blackberry Riots", discussed the way technology makes it easier for people to protest and/or riot. In particular, they talked about the Blackberry, with its Blackberry Messenger (BBM) that allows one to send messages to one or more people for free.

The article discusses how one British MP has considered suspending BBM. Closer to my home, people have protested the San Francisco BART subway system's decision to disable cellular service within their underground stations. Supposedly, this was done to make it difficult for protesters to coordinate their actions.

Both of these strike me as more whack-a-mole actions than something truly productive. While BBM may provide an easy to use application for coordination, there are plenty of alternatives. Similarly, I don't believe disabling cellular service is actually going to achieve the goals of disrupting protests, maybe initially, but I expect the future to bring ways of handling mesh networks that relay signals between Bluetooth networks to allow routing directly between cell phones instead of the carriers networks.

I don't condone the violence and rioting, but the reaction seems to be naïve. As if we could just get rid of our technology to return to a golden age of peaceful protests.


  1. That does sound naive. We had a bout of destructive rioting in our city just recently. Ironically, all the cell phone photos people captured/tweeted/posted resulted in prosecution of thousands. In many instances, the public turned in the photos, and a fair number of people turned themselves in, in shame. I don't think this exact thing will always happen, but social media can go both ways.

  2. Hi Tessa, intriguing. You bring up what I think is potentially good about social media. I was reading some of the information on Google+'s pseudonym wars. One of the claimed reasons for only allowing given names is that it results in saner debates. However, my experience is rarely that social-networks end up with the bitter fighting that have been seen on some comment systems (Youtube was given as one example).

    I think there is a potential with social networks to create community and that results in self-policing that resolves these issues.

  3. "Whack-a-mole" actions: I haven't heard that before, but it's exactly right. Nicely put.

    And T.S. makes a great point.