All posts by nm3778

Why I Didn’t Give in my Phone

It should have been easier for me than everyone else to give in my phone, but I didn’t. It should have been easier because I don’t have a smart phone (yet). This is partially because I don’t want to pay the extra 30 bucks a month for the data plan, and partially because I am not ready for that kind of addiction in my life. I already waste enough time on Facebook and Tumblr with just a computer, so I don’t think introducing a new way to access them would be healthy for me. So simply because my phone has fewer useful features than other people’s, it should have been easier to give it in.

That said, I still wasn’t able to just toss my phone into the box like that. Someone in class said, “my phone is my alarm clock,” and I latched onto that as a real reason not to do it because it’s true, I don’t have any other way of waking myself up in the morning, not even a roommate. That is legitimately important, but to be honest, it didn’t even occur to me until someone said it, so it’s certainly not what I was thinking about when the idea of turning in our phones was first proposed. I was thinking about a fear of being disconnected. I guess I just wasn’t brave enough to give up that lifeline that I reach for when my gut realizes I’ve been alone for too long. You can’t always count on Facebook chat the way you can count on a text. And I’m not a good planner — I rely on the immediacy of texting, the ability to change plans at the last minute, the 7:00 “dinner now?” texts, the “where are you?” texts. And I rely on others’ ability to send those to me.

I’m sure it wouldn’t have been that bad to be without my phone. I’ve lost and broken phones before, so I know I’d survive. I suppose the real, basic reason I didn’t give in my phone was because my gut reaction was: “I don’t wanna!”

The Power of Virtual and Physical Crowds

“The Cell Phone and the Crowd” by Vicente L. Rafael is an essay on technology and democracy in the Philippines, centered around the events in January of 2001 during which a “civilian-backed coup overthrew President Joseph Estrada.”Estrada was evading impeachment after running a corrupt government, and the middle-class was furious when “his impeachment trial was suddenly aborted by the eleven senators widely believed to be under his influence.” This revolt was special and revolutionary because of the role played by a new technology: the cell phone. It was through the use of the cell phone that a massive crowd was able to rapidly mobilize and stage a demonstration “at one of Metro Manila’s major highways, Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, commonly called Edsa.

The cell phone was introduced to the Philippines in the 1990s and became enormously popular because of its affordability and reliability. Land lines in the Philippines are expensive to acquire, as is the Internet and personal computers. With the availability of pre-paid phone cards, cell phones are the most affordable of modern communication technologies. Beyond that, postal services are “slow, unreliable, and expensive” as well. But cell phones proved “literally handy in spreading the rumors, jokes and information that steadily eroded whatever legitimacy President Estrada and his supporters still had during the impeachment hearings.” More specifically, Filipinos loved texting because it was close to free. In 2001 the Philippines was apparently the texting capital of the world.

Some Filipinos criticized the use of texting, just as I remember people criticizing it in the US. Rather than enjoying their face-to-face interactions, people would be staring at their phones at dinner with friends, at the mall, even at funerals! But the exciting part about this new technology was that anyone could do it, and that it gives the user “a sense of being someone, even if he or she is only a street vendor or a high school student– someone who can reach and be reached and is thus always in touch.” The cell phone became a part of the body– an extension of the fingers or the mouth. (Side note: it is remarks like this that make ask if the singularity has already begun. While we are waiting around for an obvious moment when we become part-robot, machines are slowly and seamlessly becoming a part of our biological selves.  :O )

Rafael describes how the norm of texting was to immediately forward a received text message to all of one’s friends as a way to spread news. This is a use of texting that is relatively unfamiliar to me, but is very similar to the way we use the Internet today. We share, retweet, and reblog on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr as a way to spread news to a wider audience, but if we lived in a society where everyone could afford a cell phone but no one could afford a computer, we would certainly use texting for that purpose. I found it interesting that people seemingly treated forwarding messages along to their friends like a civic duty, especially surrounding the Estrada controversy. The network of cell phone users became like a manual Internet as the people continuously received and forwarded messages. Or perhaps they were like neurons in a brain. Either way, a greater consciousness and community arose. “The power of texting has less to do with the capacity to elicit interpretation and stir public debate than it does with compelling others to keep messages in circulation.” Through texting, people kept their fellow citizens in the loop.

After describing the awe-inspiring network of cell phone users in the Philippines, Rafael begins an urban sociology section on the Crowd. He describes the lack of effective urban planning in Manila, and how walking through the massive crowds on the dirty, congested streets can give one a “sense that there is no single, over-arching authority.” This is a common theme in urban sociology– discussing how design of a city can affect behavior. In large, private spaces like malls, they sometimes play very loud music as “a way of reminding mall-goers they [are] not in the streets, that someone [is] in charge and watching their actions.” Crowds in Manila break down social hierarchies, as they are dense and anonymous. “The power of the crowd thus comes across in its capacity to overwhelm the physical constraints of urban planning and to blur social distinctions by provoking a sense of estrangement.” Rafael describes the crowd as “not merely an effect of technological devices, but as a kind of technology itself.” It is exciting, it carries the potential of something unexpected to happen. The chance for something unexpected to happen– that is just what urban designers in the documentary Urbanized say is the magic of cities. For Rafael, it is the magic of crowds. The two seem interchangeable.

The organization and news-spreading around the impeachment of Estrada that happened through the use of cell phones was physically actualized, finally, in a Manila shopping mall, as Internet user Flor C. describes in the last section of Rafael’s essay. Flor C. let herself be carried by the currents of the massive crowd, relishing the power of its movements and sonic waves. She participates in the protests by herself, letting her body be washed away by the force of something bigger than her. At times she is ecstatic, at other times she fears for her life, being suffocated and trapped by the mass of bodies. But instead of panicking she trusted the patience and movement of the crowd and eventually got out safely.

The cell phone and the crowd are both opposites and complements in this story. They are both demonstrative of the power and numbers of the Filipino people in their search for justice. The use of the cell phone network created a virtual crowd, while the crowd created a physical network of people. Like in  Snow Crash, people carried out their business in both worlds, the real and the virtual.

How do you think the story of People Power II in the Philippines in 2001 relates to the political world we know in 2013? Do you see connections between the use of cell phones in Manila and the use of Twitter in more recent revolutions, like the Arab Spring? Do you agree that the network of cell phone users served the same purpose as social networks we use today?

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14-Year-Old Prodigy Programmer Dreams in Code

This is not the official blog post for Thursday, but I thought it was too cool not to post.

“Is it enough just to write that slew of code such that the program just works, or is the code also the artistic medium?”

“Beautiful code is short and concise, so if you were to give that code to another programmer, they would say, ‘oh, that’s well-written code.’ It’s much like if you’re writing a poem.”

Jason Silva’s Shots of Awe

For anyone who is interested in new, terrifying and thrilling ways of understanding media, information technology, humanity, singularity, space, time, transhumanism, and spirituality, I would recommend watching videos made by Jason Silva. From his Vimeo page: “The TED Conference called Jason a ‘Performance Philosopher’, others have called Silva ‘The new Carl Sagan’ for his poetic, impassioned and inspirational take on scientific and technological advancements, his riveting on-stage delivery style, and his hyper-enthusiastic insights on creativity, innovation, technology, philosophy and the human condition.” These videos never fail to take my breath away, whether I agree with everything he says or not.  Some of my favorites include:

“Technology is stitching together all the minds of the living, wrapping the planet in a vibrating cloak of electronic nerves, How can this not stir that organ in us that is sensitive to something larger than ourselves?” – Kevin Kelly.

To Understand is to Perceive Patterns:
“Everything—from biological life to inanimate systems—generates shape and structure and evolves in a sequence of ever-improving designs in order to facilitate flow. River basins, cardiovascular systems, and bolts of lightning are very efficient flow systems to move a current—of water, blood, or electricity.”

Jason Silva has TONS of videos, and they’re all fascinating. I have trouble with them sometimes, because I have trouble with the idea that technology is always praiseworthy , and he also talks about the singularity and immortality quite a bit, which, as a student of environmental science and ecology I often find hard to swallow. But I am completely absorbed by the way he talks about the human mind and the idea that technologies are physical manifestations of our incredible imaginations. He talks about how our ability to experience awe is what has accelerated our evolution and how information technology brings our universe together. Many of the ideas we’ve talked about in class can be found in Jason Silva videos, most frequently the idea of technology and media as an extension of ourselves.

For more videos (and there are plenty!) check out:

Jason Silva’s Vimeo channel:
Jason Silva’s YouTube channel: