Technology providing war insights
By Lisa M. Bowman
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
March 20, 2003, 1:41 PM PT
Military families revealed their darkest fears in blogs, Iraqis documented life in Baghdad on the Web, and antiwar activists exchanged frantic e-mails, urging people to shut down city intersections and, by all means, bring their digital cameras to document it.
Advances in technology are giving people immediate insight into war-related events--and people's feelings about them--more than ever before. No medium is doing it faster than the blog.
Elizabeth Lawley, an assistant professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology's department of information technology, said blogging has made the conflict with Iraq much more human.
"When we went into Vietnam, television changed how people saw the war," Lawley said. "I think blogging is going to do the same for this war."
During other conflicts, Lawley said, people had to turn to op-ed pieces or water-cooler gossip to tap into feelings about the conflict. Now anyone with an Internet connection can scour the Web and find like-minded blogs or those that give a snapshot of life in a country at war. "Blogs give us a global forum to do what we already do in the hallways," she said.
Indeed, war blogs are quickly moving up the list of the most popular blogs according to Technorati, a site that tracks the popularity of the Web diaries based on the number of links they get. One of the most widely linked-to blogs is "Where is Raed?", run by a man who claims to be living in Baghdad. The blog documents the every day life of an Iraqi dealing with the realities of war, including frustrations with bank closures and two-hour waits to buy gas. The blogger also gives readers a glimpse into emotions on a recent drive around Baghdad.
"Too depressing. I have never seen Baghdad like this," the blogger writes. "Today the Ba'ath party people started taking their places in the trenches and main squares and intersections, fully armed and freshly shaven. They looked too clean and well groomed to defend anything."
Blogs by conservative commentators are also attracting thousands of links, but don't look for similar success among liberals, Lawley said. "The left has been much less effective in leveraging this technology" Lawley said. "In the same way that conservative groups have used talk radio to reach people, they have been effective using blogs as well."
Instead, left-leaning war protesters are using e-mail, Web sites and digital cameras to forward their cause. On the day after the war began, antiwar activists snarled traffic in downtown San Francisco with sit-ins and human chains.
At the center of a major intersection in downtown San Francisco, nearly two dozen protesters backed up traffic for blocks, sitting in a ring underneath a sign that said, "Street Mulch: Plant yourself for peace." Antiwar protester Helen Vozenilek, an electrician from Oakland, said mobile phones are helping rogue protesters keep track of each other throughout the city, and e-mails helped them plan the event.
Although many antiwar activists are leery of technology, fearing that law enforcement will intercept e-mails and other communication, Vozenilek said the Internet helped to proliferate the fastest-growing antiwar movement in history.
"I think it has had a huge impact," she said, especially on those who may not realize that others share their view. "I think it's hard to get a sense of the scale if you don't see other protesters."
Many protesters see the video camera as the most valuable technological tool.
On Thursday morning, dozens of video-camera-wielding protesters recorded the action as police in riot gear sat on and handcuffed antiwar activists who had been lying in the streets of one of San Francisco's busiest intersection.
Antiwar protester Bernadette Moreno said, her group, Direct Action to Stop the War, had assigned the videographers to cover the protests, so they could document their side of the story and quickly post it on the Web.
Moreno, who wore a tangerine-colored jumpsuit bearing the words "Code Orange for Liberation," said technology has played a big role in getting the word out about the protests. "Organizing that before took place by word of mouth can now be done with the click of a button," she said.