January 4, 2012

#Riot: Self-Organized, Hyper-Networked Revolts-Coming to a City Near You

LET'S START with the fundamental paradox: Our personal technology in the 21st century - our laptops and smartphones, our browsers and apps - does everything it can to keep us out of crowds.

Why pack into Target when Amazon can speed the essentials of life to your door? Why approach strangers at parties or bars when dating sites like OKCupid can more effectively shuttle potential mates into your bed? Why sit in a cinema when you can stream? Why cram into arena seats when you can pay per view? We declare the obsolescence of "bricks and mortar," but let's be honest: What we usually want to avoid is the flesh and blood, the unpleasant waits and stares and sweat entailed in vying against other bodies in the same place, at the same time, in pursuit of the same resources.

And yet: On those rare occasions when we want to form a crowd, our tech can work a strange, dark magic. Consider this anonymous note, passed around among young residents of greater London on a Sunday in early August:

Everyone in edmonton enfield woodgreen everywhere in north link up at enfield town station 4 o clock sharp!!!!

Bring some bags, the note went on; bring cars and vans, and also hammers. Make sure no snitch boys get dis, it implored. Link up and cause havoc, just rob everything. Police can't stop it. This note, and variants on it, circulated on August 7, the day after a riot had broken out in the London district of Tottenham, protesting the police killing of a 29-year old man in a botched arrest. So the recipients of this missive, many of them at least, were already primed for violence.

>Read more of Bill Wasik's article in Wired Magazine here

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