White Phosphorus: Blog Power!


Whilst at a conference in Lisbon last week, I chaired a debate on ‘Technological Utopias and Dystopias’. One of the scenarios I posed to the panel (which included science fiction authors Nick Sagan and Paul McCauley) was the question of the web. Was it a utopic or dystopic factor in our projected future? And to my mild surprise the panel were rather ambivalent.

Well recent developments have, once again, shown how powerful the web can be in undermining the forces of reaction

The admission from the Pentagon – despite earlier denials – that US troops used white phosphorus as a weapon in Falluja last year is a confession they were forced into when their evasive defense crumbled in the face of detective work from bloggers, who uncovered an article published by the US Army’s Field Artillery Magazine earlier this year.

Not only that, but the bloggers have effectively opened up a debate about the use of this weapon in modern warfare . . .


    Robert Andrews

    November 17, 2005

    Don’t get me started.
    Bloggers successfully fact-checked CBS News’ 60 Minutes story
    on Bush’s war record, forced CNN chief Eason Jordon to resign
    after he made supposedly private allegations about the
    government bombing reporters, exposed an insecure bicycle
    lock that was leaving thousands of customers’ property
    vulnerable and… need I go on?

    It’s not about bloggers, though. The web will be remembered as
    a thing that mobilises *collective wisdom*.

    Why? Two new forces…
    1. Global reach. When you have a medium that knows no
    boundaries, you multiply the available audience many times.
    2. Participatory media. Plug into that reach tools which usurp the
    old order of one-to-many, mass communication and you have
    the most amazing human conversation machine the world has
    ever seen.

    One of the side effects being, when media are participatory and
    the content user-produced, audiences fragment into niches,
    specialisms, creating a sense of “geek” about… any subject. The
    notion of “geek” is no longer one that pertains just to
    technology. “Geek” is all about the degree of definition with and
    extent to which an actor revels in a given topic. That people
    congregate together in the global system in communities of
    interest raises the availbility of like-minded actors – revel on!

    And that was an aside.

    Point being, it’s been easy, in the last five years, to become
    cynical about the earlier utopianist promises of the web. After
    all, it’s so commonplace now that we are already revelling in the

    But I seriously think that we have only began to scratch the
    surface of the benefits the web will spread to societies the world
    over. True, many of the benefits will be ones of information. But
    information is what humans deal in, and the web is now an
    inately human construction.

    Whether it’s sharing photos on “Flickr”:http://www.flickr.com,
    writing “encyclopedia”:http:/www.wikipedia.org entries
    collaboratively, collecting “hotel reviews”:http://
    http://www.tripadvisor.com or asking the public to “identify most-
    wanted criminals”:http://www.google.com/url?
    ixhome.html – the web aggregates humankind. And, in that
    respect, it will be whatever humans are.

    To step back and take a look, see “Kevin Kelly’s recent article”:http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.08/tech.html


    November 17, 2005

    A very encouragingly positive and informative posting, Rob.

    What do you think of reports that suggest nervous government
    administrations around the globe are queueing up for the

    Robert Andrews

    November 17, 2005

    You only have to look to China and Iran for that. It makes me
    feel like George Bush, but I think the ability to read information
    and to communicate and connect in this way will, and is, starting
    to spread freedoms to a variety of people around the world.
    Structures of control (local, national, political, mediated,
    identities) are disintegrating, but free and open governments
    should have nothing to fear from the phenonemena that this
    brings about. Such phenomena will act as an automatic
    watchdog to shady practices.

    The counterpoint? The same qualities that encourage freedoms
    also potentially support terrorist activities. Thus it’s always a
    pro/con trade-off. Personally, I think the pros outweigh the cons
    and that efforts to clamp down on terrorist activity planning
    through electronic media are largely just.


    November 17, 2005

    One afternoon, I was in the backyard hanging the laundry when an old, tired-looking dog wandered into the yard. I could tell from his collar and well-fed belly that he had a home. But when I walked into the house, he followed me, sauntered down the hall and fell asleep in a corner. An hour later, he went to the door, and I let him out. The next day he was back. He resumed his position in the hallway and slept for an hour.
    This continued for several weeks. Curious, I pinned a note to his collar: “Every afternoon your dog comes to my house for a nap. ”
    The next day he arrived with a different note pinned to his collar: “He lives in a home with ten children – he’s trying to catch up on his sleep.”

    I cried from laughter
    Sorry, if not left a message on Rules.

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