Riotous times

Digital tools of choice in a world where our social fabric is rapidly changing can be used to market jeans or orchestrate looting.

It's a time for gallows humor once more on the world's trading floors as financial contagion moves across the time zones - we are in a period of unprecedented insecurity.

In the digital fashion world the halcyon days of 2.0 utopia now feel in the distant past as the central tenets of that movement have become the connective social tissue that binds us all together on the internet, whether you are paying your bills, connecting with friend and acquaintances,  shopping or working.

This ubiquity has inevitably coarsened the fabric of the internet as it expands: the Internet's fifth most visited website Wikipedia has been losing contributors at a steady rate, while free social networking sites are increasingly suffering the same negative societal challenges at scale as Craigslist, the free online classified advertisements site.

Our social fabric is rapidly changing - one man's synchronised dance flash mob is another man's looting mob, while an Arab dawn isn't so heroic for western society when it manifests as a flaming dawn in North London. The word collaboration was synonymous with traitorous colluding with the occupying enemy in the second world war - today the word fundamentally means working together to achieve a goal, but that goal may have positive or negative attributes.

The outskirts of the capital of France Paris experienced serious social unrest in the summer of 2005 after two youths were killed by police, and I wrote about one of the earliest instances of widespread 'Riot Tagging' agitprop Twitter use in Greece during December 2008.

In our current era there are many sophisticated, inexpensive or free ways to communicate digitally: the multitude of channels we can engage through presents a similar challenge to the diffusion of looters across wide areas currently sacking parts of London ...and then melting away when the authorities show up "like catching water with a net".

Europeans are second only to Asia historically in their use of SMS text messaging over the last ten years and Blackberry Messenger appears to be a popular weapon of choice for criminal opportunism in the current London unrest since it easily enables sending one-to-many messages, sophisticated groups and is much harder to track and trace compared to 'transparent' free tools such as Twitter and Facebook.

The UK Guardian has an article that attempts to explain the psyches of the latest crop of looters and their feral, 'socially excluded' personas:

...A generation bred on a diet of excessive consumerism and bombarded by advertising had been unleashed.... "Where we used to be defined by what we did, now we are defined by what we buy. These big stores are in the business of tempting [the consumer] and then suddenly these people find they can just walk into the shop and have it all...Without jobs people are more likely to be hanging around the streets. Also there are simply more desirable, portable consumer goods to steal than ever before.

Foxconn currently employs over a million people in China to manufacture the devices used by the chattering classes in the western world and probably produced some of the digital devices stolen from London stores in the last 48 hours - London's Dickensian criminal underbelly has a substantial digital element, with phone unlocking table stakes for the Fagins of this era.

As I noticed Foxconn announced plans for a million robots within three years earlier this month I also happened to stumble across the Weiden Kennedy Levis jeans spot I embedded at the top of this post.

The contrast between planned massive automation of production of Apple’s iPad and other electronic gadgets by China's largest manufacturer stands in sharp juxtaposition to Levi's attempt to define individuality through wearing 'blue collar' clothing, the workers garb of an earlier era of mass production and coordinated collaboration.

According to Bob Garfield in Ad Age back in 2009

Levi's biggest marketing problem: its image of being a declasse discount-store jean amid premium-denim hipsters.

Presumably Levis will be attempting to insert their romantic messaging around rebelliousness as a way to express yourself into their social media marketing outreach through Facebook and Twitter which should be interesting to experience.

While Levi's attempts to sell jeans off glamorous images of rebellion aligned with charity, the state of California is removing inmate Facebook pages

"...because prisoners are using the social networking site to stalk victims and direct criminal activity, California prison officials said Monday. It's the latest effort to combat a problem that has grown with the advent of smart phones and social networking sites"

According to the associated press.

The challenges of respecting individual personal freedoms are becoming more and more complicated as possibilities for collaboration are used for varying shades of legality and work practices. These difficult problems need to be solved at a time when the policing thin blue line has got thinner even as the possibilities and challenges increase to do wrong or right with increasingly powerful digital tools...meanwhile the discerning London looter tends to shop for more upmarket denim in the early hours, with G Star being a popular selection...


Written while wearing Levi's 501 blue jeans

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