Mobiles, social media and revolutionary technology- Part II

3rd February 2011 by

I’m a luddite, and I’m fine with that. But aside from disliking the increasingly intrusion of technology and the internet into all aspects of our lives, I do recognise that all this media can be used for good.

When people took to the streets in Iran in 2009 they didn’t call it the Twitter Revolution for nothing. Whilst Twitter didn’t spark the street protests, it was a crucial medium for getting information to others in Iran and the rest of the world.

In October 2010 UK Uncut was 70 protesters in a doorway and a Twitter hashtag. A few months later UK Uncut is a truly nationwide social movement of direct action against the cuts, that wouldn’t exist without social media. “We don’t have any money, little expertise and we’re kind of winging it. But it seems to be going well and we seem to have hit a nerve.” Twitter, facebook and the rest have made it easy for complete strangers to organise spontaneous protests. Stowing an internet connection in their pockets has enabled protesters to report on their actions as they happen. Uncut has taken to the high streets targeting those they believe have been dodging corporate tax and the staff of Vodafone, Topshop, Boots and Tesco up and down the country are familiar with Uncut faces.

It’s no surprise that when the internet went down in Egypt last week the Egyptian government was suspected of cutting access (Vodafone Egypt admitted it had been instructed to suspend services in some areas). According to Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC technology correspondent, “for millions, in countries like Egypt, the ability to get instant access to information which could change the shape of their lives is becoming as much of a human right as access to clean water”.

Last weekend’s Education Cuts March marched off their designated route and on to the Eyptian embassy where they joined the anti-Mubarak protest. And they were not kettled by the police! This is the first of the student demos to have ended so peacefully and the lack of kettling has been credited by some to Sukey,  a security-conscious news, communications and logistics support service for demonstrators. Through a smart phone and mobile phone application Sukey collects and displays real-time police and protest behaviour, and tells protesters how to avoid being contained by the police for hours. It takes it name from the nursery rythme, “Polly put the kettle on, Sukey take it off again.”

As we become more and more connected, the possibilities for exchanging information, ideas and revolutionary inspiration are expanding exponentially and reaching people all over the world. The internet really does have the potential for a democratic and free media.

Mobiles, social media and mindbending technology- Part I

3rd February 2011 by

Anyone who’s ever met me will know that I am not a fan of mobile phones or anything beginning with i. I have a mobile and am as reliant as the next person on the internet. But I don’t like it. I wish all this information was in my head and not stored as bookmarks on my screen, I wish I could organise my life with people and not with my inbox. The problem with the internet and our constant connectivity is that, whilst it makes everything possible all the time, too much choice makes a simple life impossible most of the time.

Right now as I type I have seven tabs open on my screen, half of these are things that I am in the middle of reading. Everytime I pause for thought, instead of staring at the wall, I check my emails. This is arguably more productive than staring at the wall but I don’t think it’s helping my thought processes. Some days I find it really hard to read an entire article in one go.

I am clearly not the only one finding my concentration span disintegrating under a barrage of information. A friend confessed this week to checking emails in her lectures. Almost every conversation with friends involves some fact or figure being checked on someone’s i-phone, or being treated to photos of what someone else had for breakfast. Why do you even need maps anymore when the world wide web’s worth of information is all in your pocket? Because I like maps and I reckon lots of other people do to, otherwise why do people keep hanging them on the wall?

I am really really glad that I did not grow up with this much technology constantly vying for my attention. The advent of mobile phones has done more harm to education than a bulldozer in a public woodland. My experience working in schools and colleges is that some young people are umbilically attached to their phones, they would rather you remove their thumbs than their texting technology and, whether talking to peers or adults, cannot hold a conversation without their own personal soundtrack piped into one ear. At least when we wrote notes we were also practising handwriting, spelling and grammar. I’m sure some schools have managed to successfully ban phones from the classroom, but these handy pocket devices are just that and so they will always sneak their way back in. Now every young person has one it’s only a matter of time until technology mimics life with a Passing Notes App, a GCSE Cheat App and a The Dog Ate It App.

I’m not the only one concerned about all the the constant ringing, tweeting and flickering that’s interrupting our lives. The New York Times has written lots about how the internet is changing our brains. “Technology is rewiring our brains,” says Nora Volkow, one of the world’s leading brain scientists. Constant bursts of information are not just disrupting in themselves, they’re undermining our ability to focus even when we’re not online.

Whatever the effect of technology on our brains, it will be heightened in the young people who grow up without knowing what it’s like to wait for a roll of camera film to be developed, what it means to make someone a mix tape and what socialising is without social media.


Search Blog

Get Social