Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Technology and civil unrest

Mark Cleverley, a researcher for IBM corporation, originally from the "United Kingdom," as he coined it commented on the use of cell phones for texts in the recent civil unrest in England. Cleverley spoke at a mini conference at our Colorado Convention Center sponsored by IBM concentrating on use of statistics and information for cities and states in dealing with various problems. Promoters billed the conference as a class on analytics in government in solving problems and acheiving goals. In reality it was a soft sell for the IBM systems available for governmental folks in dealing with statistics and issues. I would have preferred a more direct sales pitch about programs available rather than a shrouded sales promotion. Cleverley reported to the crowd of almost 50 people that bands of lawless brigands and other folks would email and text each other deciding where and when to pillage and steal next. He shared that the English parliament is contemplating legislation which would give police authorities the power to shut down electronically mediated communications: emails, tweets and texts to try to control flash points of where rioters and urban pirates might focus their next escapade.

He said rioters went after such luxury items as perfume, cosmetics and the like, not food as might be expected in a time of financial chaos and monetary shortfall.

I asked Cleverley if in his research he found anyone who had studied the new media: tweets, texting and emails and had predicted the use of such in riotous violent activity. He could think of no researcher who had predicted those illegal uses. This issue should be of concern to us in Denver. Have gangs used cell phones to focus on targets for group assaults in lodo after ball games and bar closings? A Denver police representative said the department is looking into this new twist of tweets and emails.

Marshall McLuhan, the first Media Ecologist who taught for years at St. Louis University, got it right so many years ago when he wrote: "Innumerable confusions and a feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transition." Couple this with the huge number of people out of work, the increase in forclosures and home losses and you have a witches brew which makes us think of MacBeth's old crones who cried, "Fair is foul and foul is fair." Something to think about for sure and nothing seems fair at all.

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