A new threat has emerged, just when airlines began to think that Wi-Fi and cellphones could be safely used without “interfering with the aircraft’s navigation systems”.  The danger arises from packages containing bombs that could be detonated by a cellphone itself, or via a Wi-Fi connection to a handset.

So passenger aircraft may continue to create “black holes” in our web coverage, at a time when our appetite for constant contact is becoming insatiable.  

Social media is heightening this hunger.  When a young woman I know sits drinking coffee with a friend, her eyes are constantly flickering down to her cellphone screen for messages.  (Perhaps that’s a new meaning to the word “Flickr”.)

A young man I know was an hour late for band practice on the day that daylight-saving was introduced.  He was disappointed that his iPhone did not automatically adjust its alarm: Another black hole?

But back to Flickr for a moment: Consumer magazine (issue 507) has praised Flickr for the feature that allows you to copyright your own work with creative commons licenses.  That’s an important protection in an era in which disregard for intellectual property appears to be a trait of social media.

The same review in Consumer talks about the “netiquette” of social media.   Its commonsense advice focuses on “oversharing” and recommends that you don’t accept just anyone who wants to befriend you.  (Remember Dunbar’s number in an earlier blog on this site.)

Not that oversharing is likely to be a problem in China.  Apparently Twitter is only accessible to those in China who have the skills to penetrate what The Economist (Oct 30, 2010) calls “the great firewall”: Another black hole.

Mind you, people there are enthusiastically adopting weibo, China’s own heavily-censored microblogging service.  But like all anti-matter, black holes attract their opposites and light is flooding into weibo.

According to the Economist, efforts by authorities to delete mention of imprisoned activist and Nobel prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, were circumvented by bloggers using homonyms of Liu’s name, or abbreviations in Latin characters.  The other morsel in that story was the statistic from a China Youth News survey that reported more than 94% of weibo users saying it had changed their lives: Darkness is dramatically diminishing.

The biggest black hole for social media has always seemed to be the developing world, where only 18% of the population have access to the internet.  But wait… According to The International Telecommunication Union more than 50% owned a mobile-phone at the end of 2009, and this allows texting.  That presented an opportunity to Nathan Eagle, an MIT academic who did a teaching stint in rural Kenya.  So he introduced txteagle, an app which encourages crowdsourcing* of a kind (*see earlier blog on this site).

Nathan Eagle’s version of crowdsourcing allows the breaking down of work into small tasks that can be sent out by text to be performed by lots of individuals – such as local people checking street signs in Sudan for a satellite navigation service. 


Maybe, with social media, there soon will be no telecommunication black holes left except for airline passengers.


Posted by Joseph Peart