Snowballs and a Distribution Divide.

On Black Friday, I picked up a sweet 32" Samsung HD TV for about $500. That's not nothing, but it occurred to me after I left Best Buy that the full suite of cutting edge technology I own can today be had for a few thousand dollars (even less if you go MacBook instead of MacBook Pro, get the $99 iPhone, etc.). That's rather amazing, and it means that I can whip up creative content in a way that would blow the minds of gear heads even a decade ago. It doesn't mean, though, that anyone is going to necessarily listen to once I post it online.

Julian Sanchez has a nice post on how the story of the DC snowball fight took a big turn when video turned up showing a metropolitan police officer pulling a gun on the crowd, despite the MPD's initial denial. Julian wonders if the accessibility of modern technology is shrinking the power gap between citizens. It's true -- even the free mobile phones that come with the contract these days can take a high-resolution picture. And whether the "victims" are black, white, or whatever, it's tough for anyone to ignore jaw-dropping full-color evidence of a police officer pulling a gun or getting violent. We saw that in the shooting on the BART in San Francisco and the beating of a vendor during the London G-20 protests.

Julian's is a good point, and a hopeful one. This is the sort of positive social leveling that sousveillance is supposed to bring about.

But I'll suggest one consideration worth keeping in mind. We're quickly getting to a place where it makes sense to think about the digital divide not just in terms of hardware disparities. Distribution networks are becoming an ever bigger deal, as conversations are being shaped by who is reading/following whom online. That's why it starts to matter who Post reporters are listening to on Twitter or whether the political class ignores MySpace in favor of Facebook. Give a read, for example, to the story that the City Paper is telling about how the Washington Post ignored for quite a while gripping documentary evidence available online about the DC snowball incident, preferring instead official denials issued by MPD. Of course, gripping videos of cops behaving badly might break through in a big way eventually. But cheap technologies don't alone dictate that everyone's voices are going to get heard.

--Nancy Scola

(Photo credit: matthewbradley)

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