What we witness and what we share through our mobile devices has taken on greater importance and consequence. We live in a society within which a simple text, SMS or WhatsApp message has the power to not only order a pizza, book a haircut or confirm log in details. The peer to peer and social media power of these shared messages can drive conversation mould opinion and create action. This sharing of content and ideas of course extends to the videos we capture, conversations we record and the photos we publish.
In a world more politically sensitive than ever and within which our individual and group behavior is constantly under scrutiny has the prospect of being held to account for what would have previously been acceptable behavior changed what we do and how we act.
The thing about the text message is the absence of tone, things tend to be binary with very little room for interpretation. This is perhaps why the SMS is an effective and efficient platform and tool for confirmation - yes/no and security- 2 and 3 factor authentication or numerical code. Adopting a content rich, content sharing environment with SMS or text at the foundation is difficult to start with, unless the text links to a secondary environment the binary nature of the message will elicit a more binary response.
Using our mobile phones as more than just phones but rather as effective global communication devices is placing a lot of influence and power in the hands of many who are potentially not equipped to deal and manage this responsibility. One could compare this responsibility to being similar to that of giving a rifle to someone untrained to deal with the repercussions of misusing the rifle. In essence though, there are many who own rifles and to own a rifle one is required to have a license, this is not the case with mobile phone ownership.
Often the secure nature of messaging apps is the reason they are preferred by those not wishing to leave a footprint. In a world dominated by social media apps proliferated with contentious content, it has become a much-discussed topic and as such social media owners have come under pressure to regulate who says what to who and when.
In the last few months, we have witnessed the power of the text message in real world situations perhaps not ordinarily considered to be text appropriate.
An insurrection at the very seat of democracy driven by messaging so as to keep the information off social media. Thousands met, gathered and stormed the Capitol in Washington in what authorities said was an unprecedented use of mobile phone technology to plan and organize an event of this nature in the United States.
In similar acts of political and democratic difference those protesting in Myanmar and Hong Kong have shifted to a greater degree of dependency on text message usage in order to not only galvanize action but to ensure anonymity. Of course, any protest or social action will divide opinion but does the binary nature of the text eliminate perspective from those considering participation.
The flip side of course is that mobile devices are also capable of sharing rich media, video and audio between mass audiences or a select group. Apps like Tic Toc and Instagram are dependent on this richer form of content sharing. It is all very well capturing interesting, funny, controversial content on our phones, but what we do with it, is often far more controversial or even beneficial than the act of capturing it. What can make matters worse is the proliferation of easy-to-use software apps that allow for the easy alteration or “photoshopping” of video content. Who would have thought that perhaps the trial that will define policing in the USA, that of George Floyd will hinge on video content captured on the phones of bystanders? This very same trial, should it have occurred 20 years ago, without access to the mobile phone would undoubtedly have a different outcome.
In summary, the power we have in our hands today through the opportunities offered by our mobile devices should not be underestimated, it can be used to rally troops, move money or order pizza but simultaneously it can be used to video or record the movement of troops, track the flow money and capture people stuffing their faces with their favorite toppings.
How we choose to behave is ultimately up to us, but with great power comes great responsibility and our mobiles afford us great power. I’ll have mushrooms on my pizza!