I have been watching the events unfolding in London – and now spreading elsewhere – with some bemusement and maybe some alarm, but one thing that seems to be emerging is the fact that modern technology seems to be playing a part in what’s going on with mobile phones, social media and at one point Blackberry Messenger being quoted as being used to organise the unrest.
The life imitating art part comes from the American Science Fiction writer Larry Niven, and in particular a story called Flash Crowd. In it, an instant matter transfer device allows people to show up very quickly at a riot site, and it soon develops into a semi-organised event with looting galore – another short story, The last days of the permanent floating riot club, deals with how this had developed and in the fictional world was dealt with.
While this isn’t quite the same, it is a case of technology being used to allow word to spread and forces to be coordinated, and it seems that is making things hard for the authorities. Flash Mobs have been used for humourous and artistic purposes – now, are we seeing them turn more sinister?
Whatever the reasons that have sparked the riots off – and some of the factors seem to be depressingly familiar to those of the 1980s – it seems that there were a lot of people ready and willing to take advantage once the blue touchpaper was lit. Even rioters, it seems, are able to take advantage of technology.