12 September 2005

Some notes on the Katrina Aftermath

Over the last month I've been extremely reluctant to post because I prefer to perform some research on the items I post, and compose a short essay. And over this time, my attention was directed intensively somewhere else. Another matter, of course, was the enterprise of finding for meaningful things to post about. I'm hoping that, starting today, I'll be able to resume regular posting.

As with nearly everyone with a blog in the USA, I've been preoccupied by the recent tragic events in the Gulf States of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. Since that time, I've done a substantial amount of research in things like hurricanes, emergency preparedness, and urban development in the region in order to bring myself up to speed, and I have observed several things that I believe are relevant to intimate computing.

The first is that intimate devices played a surprisingly minor role in the post-Hurricane phase of Katrina's onslaught. Aside from a few anecdotal exceptions, I looked in vain for evidence that PDAs or 3G phones had significantly affected rescue operations. Boing Boing, for example, had a series of posts on the hurricane and the suffering it inflicted
Boing Boing, like Indy Media, links to a story by Jacob Abblebaum about setting up a radio station in the area. The point, of course, was that radio transmission technology that had been miniaturized to lunchbox size before the Vietnam War, was the technology required for independent communications.

Another point was the complete indifference of PDA developers to the calamity. During the Tsunami that struck Banda Aceh and Sri Lanka last winter, journalists had filed relatively lame stories to the effect of "People with cell phones are using text messages to fill the gap left by destroyed landlines and (in some cases) the Indonesian military's crackdown." However, cell phones and pagers have been such a stopgap since at least 1986, when pagers were used to coordinate demonstrations that ousted Ferdinand Marcos. Since then, the security police in countries like Uzbekistan (where Ceaceascu-like dictator Islam Karimov perpetrated his Timi┼čoara-style massacre in Andijan). The "jack-booted thugs" or heavy-handed tactics of mid-20th century repression are no longer needed, and we already need to understand that, so far, gains in technology made since the cell phone became widespread, have on balance abetted bureaucracies, not the forces of accountability for those bureaucracies. And I'm sorry to have to say that, but it seems like an immutable reality.

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