Thursday, February 03, 2011

Emergent phenomena and civil disobedience

Here's a fascinating piece from the Guardian. Computing, GPS, and social media are being combined to thwart police tactics against crowds of demonstrators. At a secret location, computer geeks track tweets, texts, and GPS readings from demonstrators, and maybe police reports as well, and text information back to demonstrators. In a recent demonstration in London, police failed to "kettle" (i.e. trap and effectively arrest en masse) a crowd, apparently because of this.

The amount and power of information now available to individuals is astounding and revolutionary. We're essentially at the point where an assembly of people in the streets might move like a flock of birds, in which information available to one person at one point in the crowd might almost instantly be communicated to the rest, or in which a central command center might direct a crowd to move effectively against police or counterdemonstrators. (In Egypt these seem to be the same thing.)

I've not written on how information technology empowers citizens, because I've not had much to say. But it's clearly a development of crucial importance. AlJazeera has been webcasting a powerful documentary about Egyptian bloggers who have opposed the state and been persecuted as a result. Great stuff. Early seeds of what is happening now. I hope they succeed.

BTW, the blog of the young couple featured in the film isn't currently accessible. I have no idea whether it's still in existence, but the URL is

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