Watching events unfold on the world stage, I find myself wondering exactly how much responsibility lies in the hands of the Finns.
Once their goal was to put a phone into the hands of every citizen of the planet. Then to upgrade that phone to a camera/video enabled internet phone. Slowly, slowly they’ve been working towards that admirable commercial aim. Commercial? Maybe a bit more than that.
Travelling in both Egypt and Tunisia, Nokia was ubiquitous. In amongst the people wanting to sell me things I met geeks – people who despite a language barrier were eager to show off their devices and chat about smartphone capabilities. Other smartphone manufacturers are coming up on the rails in such places, but Nokia is still dominant. A cursory glance at the stats shows that even without counting the sale of second hand devices, passed down as people upgrade, there’s an awful lot of Nokia handsets in N. Africa.
And now we see the effects. In Tunisia a Government riddled with corruption and held in power by oppressive activities was toppled by a community connected via Twitter, Facebook and bloggers, organised by sms and tweets to assemble and demonstrate. News hit the global media from smartphone video cameras and blogging apps. Now Tunisia are looking to rebuild with something resembling real democracy, real choice – with all the advantages and drawbacks which that will bring them.
Egypt is a different case: much greater poverty means less people with handsets, lower education standards, less optimism. And a rather more ruthless dictator, backed by a lot of Western money to keep him sweet since Egypt is a little too close to Israel for comfort.
In an effort to prevent people organising, the Egyptians authorities cut access to facebook and twitter (revealing their ignorance of the use of proxies!) Then they cut off the internet altogether. Finally, in an act of desperation, they shut down the mobile phone networks. (You might reflect what sort of Government passes laws allowing it to do that.) Even so, in the 24 hours up to lunchtime on 28th January (one of the major days of demonstration) some 8% of Tweets containing the word ‘Egypt’ were generated within the country itself (http://mashable.com/2011/01/28/cairo-protests-twitter/). Proving how hard it is to stop someone with a phone in their hand. (http://www.zdnet.co.uk/blogs/security-bullet-in-10000166/egyptian-government-orders-mobile-shutdown-10021573/)
Looking back, this ought to have been predictable. Devices empower people. Everyone and anyone can pass an opinion and get it read (even me!), send photos to news outlets, post video where the world can see it. Silencing your populace has never been harder. And it’s leading slowly to demands for democracy and freedom in places where people could be quashed just a few short years ago.
I believe that when history looks back, the camera-smart-phone will be seen to have been a major factor in bringing down dictators who could no longer suppress those they ruled. Sneaky guys, those Finns.