Cell Phones and Activism

At a recently held conference by AAAS (American Association for Advancement of Science), scientists discussed and evaluated current challenges for low cost wireless communication. The conference asserts that, “the right to receive and impart information is a universal human right that can be enhanced and protected by providing access to wireless communication for all”.

Nowadays, cell phones are ubiquitous and have far exceeded our expectations and their initial role. For instance, cell phones are now used as decentralized tools for eradicating (or at least ameliorating) poverty(1,2,3), have challenged traditional microeconomics notions by being used as ATM machines, and perhaps at times (because of their not-so-considerate users) have annoyed us on a bus ride.

Cell phone text messaging (SMS) has become such a powerful norm that it was recently used for organizing (underground) protests. The innovative use of cell phones does not stop here. Recently, Jan Chipchase, a lead researcher at Nokia Design, made his team’s research on innovative cell phone practices available online. Projects such as phone remades and shared phone practices clearly demonstrate a glimpse of innovative usage in the face of adversity. What really caught my eye, however, was use of cell phones for activists.

As Jan Chipchase states, “spread of tools that can capture experiences means that more people are in a position to document and publish (human rights) abuses – including many ad-hoc activists who wont be aware that of the relative ease of tracing communication – and this in a world before the widespread adoption of geo-tagged photos.” Although this use of decentralized, powerful technology is both innovative and noble, security issues loom at large and make existence of NGOs such as Benetech and tools such as Martus ever more prominent.

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