For many westerners, the concept of a self-organizing revolution started under the banner of the Occupy movement, whose credibility has since flopped thanks to the astroturfing aspirations of its founding organizer, Justine Tunney. But back in 2011, when Zuccotti Park was makeshift home to swathes of protesters and self-styled journalists furiously filing stories on makeshift local networks, Occupy Wall Street was exciting. It was new. It seemed like a genuine shakeup to the status quo, and even if you were indifferent to the 99%, Occupy became an unavoidable conversational anchor for months to come. For one thing, the movement reduced its active, on-site participants to today’s equivalent of the bare necessities (i.e. accessible wifi) – people were finding novel ways to power their devices, connecting with likeminded compatriots, and for the most part, giving realtime updates on developments around the park. It was, given the demographic, (my generational tribe is, by and large, a complacent people) pretty unprecedented. What OWS did was birth a mass appreciation for localized networks, cement public needs and demands for public wireless, and push Twitter to the front of 21st century news reporting.
This brings us to the shit circus going on around the world: Ukraine’s Euromaidan (“Eurosquare”), uprisings in Venezuela, (another) drawn-out revolution in Thailand, protests in Turkey, and the inevitable seethe of discontent quietly fomenting in the wake of 2010’s Arab Spring. Some of these moments have actually triggered political change (though whether for good or evil, time will tell). Many of these events have drawn attention from the long, comforting arm of western Samaritanism, such as Twitter denizens championing the plight of the Euromaidan protesters, and drone enthusiasts watching the use of unmanned surveillance bots as new forms of reporting. Indeed, a balanced report of modern warfare tech treads a delicate line between the grim reality of death tolls and bloody coups, and technology that enables us to become armchair revolutionaries and self-styled war nerds. The exposure coming out of these embattled states has drawn empathy from across the globe, along with a twinge of guilt as we embrace the next generation of wearables for vlogging cats instead of live-capping student protests. Dazed examines the trends in sociopolitical self-empowerment and the tools that make self-organized revolutions happen.
“THE INTERNET OF COPS”
This year, our new surveillance god is the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), a new “state of the art communications network for paramedics, firemen and law enforcement” that claims to be the “MOST secure wireless network ever built.” All the better to technologically molest hapless citizens, right? Unsurprisingly, FirstNet isn’t brand-new – 2014 is actually the second year of its projected ten-year lifespan; we can only assume that this is the year that FirstNet strives to assume its ultimate form by unrolling helpful new 4G-based features, such as wirelessly tagging patients for more efficient medical responses in disaster situations. Oddly enough, the program seems to slot into the Department of Commerce rather than Homeland Security, which could indicate some interesting silent partnerships between government agencies and companies shaping the billion-dollar surveillance business. More libertarian-minded individuals can thank bloated government inefficiency for FirstNet’s long, slow maturation into to Big Brother – for now, I think most of us are happy to sit back and soak in the Kafka.
On a related note, Ukraine’s Euromaidan protestors have already met their equivalent of a technocentric police state in the form of this text message: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”. Naturally, Ukrainian telecoms have denied involvement and blamed the breach on IMSI-catching technology, a middle-man setup which requires a dummy cell tower to “catch” phones in the vicinity that are searching for the strongest connection.
THE W-WORD NOBODY WANTS TO READ EVER AGAIN
Wearables – you either love them or hate them; personally I can’t stand the idea of being a walking transponder. But in the case of revolution, wearables could be your last line of defense against a particularly amoral law enforcement officer, or the key to filing a breaking news story without access to usual mod-con resources like wifi and power. Vodafone has just unveiled the Instant Device Mini, a 24-pound backpack that provides “a 2G GSM connection capable of handling thousands of text messages and five calls made at once to people within a 328-foot radius.” Using the Instant Device Mini with Jason Griffey’s new open-source LibraryBox project, a technologically marooned reporter could easily create a small, local webserver for embattled protesters sans signal. Besides the obvious (Google Glass, clearly), there are also new wearable recorders that are far more discreet and vastly more insidious, such as the Narrative Clip, a tiny plastic square that takes pictures every 30 seconds in the name of art. This could be a dream for photographers on the job, an absolute nightmare for law enforcement, and a low-key alternative for citizen journalists who don’t want to succumb to the public scrutiny of Google Glass.
On a side note, as these political movements gain momentum and exposure, it’ll be extremely interesting to see how localized hackathons produce situation/country-specific tech to overcome specific problems.
FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT TO RIOT
Riot is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a simulator for real-life events that we’ve all been watching with varying degrees of detached horror. In the team’s own words, “the discontent of an entire population cannot help but outburst in Riots, where the sounds of many voices get heard at once. What is that triggers such a strife? What does a cop feel during the conflict? In "Riot", the player will experience both sides of a fight in which there is no such thing as "victory" or "defeat". Simulating a riot might seem myopic considering the real-world consequences of real flesh-and-blood rioters getting mowed down in public squares, but sim games have the benefit of evoking a deeply personal sense of empathy with their players. In an ideal world, Riot could be used as a creative simulation tool for each side to reach a basic human understanding that neither cop nor protestor wants to be there.
DDG is described as Google’s tiniest competitor, but the basic premise behind this micro-search engine is that it’s anonymous and doesn’t feed search data back to third parties. Google did define DDG as a “competitor” in 2012, but in its current incarnation, DDG is a hybrid engine probably best characterized as an alternative – the whole point is to offer a cleaner search experience for those concerned about privacy; of course, if you’re happy with the personal payoffs of sharing data, there’s no major reason to stop using Google and its brethren. Of course, DDG is fueled by ads, but the search results are bare-bones basic with a focus on providing direct answers. The slow rise of DDG comes at a time of three-second internet memories, when streamlining information is a highly coveted skill in the news aggregation and SEO business. Throw in the growing demand for anonymous searching options, and DDG is an ideal outlet for investigative journalists learning to adopt basic cryptoculture elements in their day-to-day work (Trevor Timm is a prime example of a pro-crypto press advocate), as well as political organizations and grassroots movements concerned with government surveillance.
LET THEM EAT CUBESATS
A New York non-profit organization is developing a program to create an “Outernet” – a free, global internet – via new cubesat technology. Cubesats or cube satellites are small (between a shoebox and a microwave) and can be deployed for less than a conventional spacecraft, which is traditionally packed with the maximum possible tech payload. The idea is to create a versatile network of satellites, not unlike a constellation, that anyone can use to access the internet, anywhere in the world. This would have tremendous socioeconomic repercussions for governments and telecom corporations, especially in today’s ‘space race’ nations who can afford to deploy larger and more sophisticated cubesat networks. A web of cubesats could be “owned” by certain corporations, raising questions about whether a global internet would truly serve a common purpose, since each network would essentially devolve into a franchise situation like the infrastructure described in Neal Stephenson’s iconic Snow Crash. Cubesats in the name of universal internet sounds good in theory, and as Outernet’s website says, its goal is to “bridge the global information divide” by allowing more people to access the knowledge available on the internet. However, given the massive cost of designing an Outernet cubesat system, perhaps we can postpone a dubious future in franchised interwebs.
Everyone’s favorite feudal cesspool has put a little more elbow grease into its new live reporting feature, possibly hoping to legitimize itself as a source of breaking news. As the self-styled front page of the internet, with legions of redditors, moderators, lurkers, and all-around fanboys, Reddit is already a favored go-to for web-literate newshounds. But it’s all usually hard to parse for a non-reddit-literate user, with informational treasure scattered around the site in different subreddits, embellished by trolls, or buried in obscure posts. Armed with a new live reporting feature called Liveupdate, Reddit now appears to have a genuine interest in being taken seriously as a serious news platform, based on the holy trifecta of informational transparency, direct engagement, and narrative excellence found in its pioneering IAmA and Ask Me Anything sessions. Given Reddit’s online clout (in all its crazy libertarian misogynist glory), its tendency to self-organize information, and its nebulous internal methods of self-policing, Liveupdate could evolve into a far more sensational and sophisticated news streaming tool than Twitter.
TL;DR: When asked for an opinion on the new live reporting feature, one chronic Reddit user replied with: this Gif.
Project Tango, Google’s new smartphone project, seems like a far more viable foray into VR/AR than its stunted redheaded stepchild, Google Glass. Glass, while sleeker and debatably more futuristic, still bears the cross of being a pair of video camera glasses that nobody wants around. Tango, on the other hand, is like a handheld window into an augemented world, in which you can navigate around your environment not entirely unlike a video game, map environments, and track objects and people. While the actual practical applications of these features aren’t super useful in a regular urban environment (besides creeping the hell out of people), we can expect some open-source magic to localize said features to fit the needs of a certain scenario. (Politics aside, we expect big Ingress integrations with Tango as the real-life MMO rolls out for iOS this year.)
MOBILE MALWARE AS A NEW FORUM FOR DATA EXCHANGE
Mobile malware has evolved at such a brisk clip that it has basically painted itself into a corner as a the ideal vehicle for black market data exchanges. It is already a means of obtaining illegal information for legitimate companies, seeing as more and more financial transactions now have an excessive amount of personal data attached to them – juicy data that would fetch a darling price from all sorts of major corporations. Now that we have Mark Zuckerberg pushing for free mobile internet services, and given his history of usually getting his way, we can expect an even larger push across the industry for free mobile networks across the board. Since we’ve been lulled into a weird sense of pseudo-security with 4G at our fingertips, this is a terrible idea for several reasons: generally, these days phones can contain more personally damaging information than a laptop or an iPad. Apply this scenario to a developing-world politician, an embedded journalist with confidential contacts, or an outspoken opposition leader in an authoritarian regime. Now, take the new Chameleon virus that spreads through wifi networks. Chameleon has been compared to a flu outbreak, and remains undetected by antivirus software. Of course, a dormant wireless virus doesn’t seem particularly terrifying in light of the recent NSA/GCHQ surveillance revelations, but given most people’s absolute lack of fucks to give about public internet security, Chameleon and its ilk offer enterprising minds another way to extract information from personal devices. TL;DR: mobile tech is easy, but it makes us easier targets.
From a personal standpoint, a new cryptocurrency network/development platform is pretty much a political statement that’s good for headlines and shit-stirring and not much else. But if that’s what you’re after, and if you’re protesting in a country with vague, shifty monetary laws, then perhaps Etherium is what you’ve been waiting for. Its founder, well-known Bitcoin enthusiast Vitalk Buterin, dismissed the need for mining with Etherium because it makes it “dead easy to make a new crypto,” sort of like the Lego of cryptofinance. But whether this a good thing when people usually appreciate some sort of stability and financial solvency wherever money is concerned, we can appreciate the sentiment behind it
Changing the way we read seems a little boring and unrelated to altering political landscapes, but considering the communicative leaps and bounds with which we’ve moved through history – think Gutenberg, modern presses, and proven evidence that the internet has changed the way we read and seek information – enhancing that sweet synaptic spark between informational intake and comprehension could make or break a revolution. What Spritz’s new text broadcasting tech is trying to do is improve text streaming to maximize a given message, which could be tremendous for, say, an outdoor billboard, or career-changing for a broadsheet reporter (or whatever passes for one these days) running on a tight deadline. The company claims that it only needs 13 characters to get a certain message across, which is pretty impressive considering the real estate on advertising/streaming space these days. If Spritz is successful in enhancing the speed with which we read, and subsequently absorb information, the net effect would be a huge speed boost in social reactions to breaking news, potentially saving lives or averting disaster. Truth: trying out their ‘speed reading’ test on the site is admittedly pretty cool, especially coming from someone who speed-reads for a living.
Follow Alexis Ong on Twitter here @steppinlazer