Cell Phones for Civic Engagement

Cross-posted at the Walker blog:

"Civic engagement" is an incredibly broad term, running from get-out-the-vote drives to the Walker Art Center'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.

Sound far-fetched?

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.

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