Flash Mobs Go Mainstream

31 Mar 2004|Darrel Rhea

Cell phone penetration in Spain is 94%, and text messaging is so common that it is noticeable. I’m in Barcelona now and people walk around reading their phones like they used to read newspapers. At a park bench or bus stop, people contemplate their phones. On the metro, they share the view of the tiny screens. While I see some of this at home in the US, it is at a different scale here.

Reading of the recent events in Madrid left me wondering how a government could be toppled in a matter of hours. One of the answers seems to be the pervasive use of text messaging. While demonstrations are not officially allowed 24 hours before a vote, text messaging volume soared in Spain as all sides lobbied for spontaneous demonstrations and certainly influenced the high 77% voter turnout.

While email and internet use are a growing part of our election process, I can’t see it having the same immediacy as a device people carry with them like a cell phone. As watches, phones and PDAs become more wired; it is only a matter of time before our society becomes more volatile and reactive.

Good that democracy might be more participative — Bad that misinformation and rumors will certainly proliferate at the speed of light. The Spanish government-owned media is now being blamed for disseminating misinformation about the Basques, and in this case it seems that the population caught on fast and reacted to counter that effort. Technology is unleashing some serious forces here.

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