“Civic engagement” is an incredibly broad term, running from get-out-the-vote drives to the Walker’s interest in linking contemporary art with community concerns to… cell phones? Apparently. The global conference MobileActive: Cell Phones for Civic Engagement, to be held in Toronto September 22-24, will look at how this not-quite ubiquitous technology can be instrumental in participatory democracy, human rights work, and community building.
USA Today reports how SMS (short message service) has been used in political movements from South Korea to the Middle East to the Phillippines, where in a beautiful case of “mobile democracy,” text messages were used to organize the demonstrations that contributed to the downfall of President Joseph Estrada in 2002. WorldChanging catalogues other examples where cell-phone technology has been pivotal in social change, from ways the technology can spark bottom-up economic development in poor nations in Africa to the use of textmobbing as a form of political protest. And Howard Rheingold links to a story about how the poor in the Philippines use “texting” for the collective good:
Finding that his family has run out of its supply of rice, Nestor Santos (not his real name) pulled out a cellular phone from his pocket, keyed in the order and promptly sent it via short message service (SMS) … to his order taker. A few hours later, the ordered sack of rice to be shared by Nestor and his neighbors arrived.
This account may sound like just another technology-assisted lifestyle story, except for the fact that Nestor collects garbage for a living, and lives in a former dumpsite that still has a huge mound of compacted decades-old filth — and a much-reduced stench outsiders still find overpowering — to remind residents of their even sorrier past.