cell phone cameras, my bangs and Mubarak’s departure

Posted on February 22, 2011

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One feature of my cell phone that I rarely utilize is the camera. Aside from using it to take a picture of my car drowning in several feet of snow, the only other time I can remember using it in recent weeks occurred while flipping through magazines—I snapped a picture of a hairstyle I want to show my hairdresser when I go in for my next hair cut. Aside from helping me explain the type of bangs I want to try out, the pictures I take aren’t exactly riveting or important.

The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines the word weapon as “something (as a club, knife, or gun) used to injure, defeat, or destroy.” Hmm. When I think of weapons, I think of just those things: knives, guns, and even when thinking outside the box, my love of the board game “Clue” leads me to think of a candlestick. But a cell phone camera? Not so much. At least, not until coming across an article in the NYT titled “Cellphones Become the World’s Eyes and Ears on Protests.”

The article discusses the vital role cell phone cameras have played during the chaos in the Middle East over the past few weeks. Images snapped by demonstrators have allowed people from all over the world to have a front row seat, witnessing history as it unfolded first in Tunisia and then in Egypt.

One quote in the article that stuck out  to me was this one:

“You finally have a video technology that can fit into the palm of one person’s hand, and what the person can capture can end up around the world,” said James E. Katz, director of the Rutgers Center for Mobile Communication Studies. “This is the dagger at the throat of the creaky old regimes that, through the manipulation of these old centralized technologies, have been able to smother the public’s voice.”

I love this idea—that  cell phone cameras are like a “dagger at the throat of…creaky old regimes.” This illustrates the power of images coming out of the Middle East and the threat they pose to well-established governments. The last month has been a perfect example of a critical News Literacy concept: information is power.  The simple technology we take for granted every day was used by  people halfway around the world to pressure an unpopular dictator to step down after 30 years.  Cameras empowered the people and gave them the ability to spread their message not only within Egypt, but beyond.

A little sidenote… One site mentioned in the article that is definitely worth checking out is the CitizenTube channel on Youtube. Over the past month, the channel has been organizing noteworthy videos uploaded from the Middle East. There are so many videos uploaded to CitzenTube that YouTube began utilizing an outside aggregation site (Storyful) to manage all the footage—much of which is literally shot from cell phones and handheld cameras right in the center of all the action.

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