There was an interesting conversation between Noel Thompson and Jonathan Chavez on Hearts and Minds last night, regarding how new media is changing politics… Well earlier in the week, I’d been conducting my own series of interviews with John Pollock who is contributing editor to MIT’s Technology Review…
His latest work looks for a feel below the systems and the technology to take a worms eye view of how individuals and groups used new media and then teasing out what we in the west (where our institutions have not yet quite collapsed) might learn from a situation in which many of the conventional tools for communications had either degenerated or were not available to the Libyan rebels…
It’s worth quoting the dramatic opening of what is a lengthy and worthy read:
After weeks of skirmishes in the Nafusa Mountains southwest of Tripoli, Sifaw Twawa and his brigade of freedom fighters are at a standstill. It’s a mid-April night in 2011, and Twawa’s men are frightened. Lightly armed and hidden only by trees, they are a stone’s throw from one of four Grad 122-millimeter multiple-rocket launchers laying down a barrage on Yefren, their besieged hometown.
These weapons can fire up to 40 unguided rockets in 20 seconds. Each round carries a high-explosive fragmentation warhead weighing 40 pounds. They urgently need to know how to deal with this, or they will have to pull back. Twawa’s cell phone rings.
Two friends are on the line, via a Skype conference call. Nureddin Ashammakhi is in Finland, where he heads a research team developing biomaterials technology, and Khalid Hatashe, a medical doctor, is in the United Kingdom. The Qaddafi regime trained Hatashe on Grads during his compulsory military service.
He explains that Twawa’s katiba—brigade—is well short of the Grad’s minimum range: at this distance, any rockets fired would shoot past them. Hatashe adds that the launcher can be triggered from several hundred feet away using an electric cable, so the enemy may not be in or near the launch vehicle. Twawa’s men successfully attack the Grad—all because two civilians briefed their leader, over Skype, in a battlefield a continent away.
Indeed, civilians have “rushed the field,” says David Kilcullen, author of The Accidental Guerrilla, a renowned expert on counterinsurgency and a former special advisor to General David Petraeus during the Iraq War. Their communications can now directly affect a military operation’s dynamics. “Information networks,” he says, “will define the future of conflicts.”
And this point, my not terribly good Kodak video machine, gave out and we resiled to a series of Audioboos:
And I start this one with the question of what’s the pay off for politicians and established organisations:
Pollock has argued that people online are more reasonable than the mainstream media… But he says the real value is in the detail of the long tail after the major flurry of the Twitter and media storm has subsided…
This is where the delicacy and subtlety of the commentary that often goes missing in the 24 hours hungry news cycle is… And where, often, blind falsehoods are quietly eliminated in the wake of the storm…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty