Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

On the plane returning from Helsinki to Tokyo, I read an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune, Dare We Call It Genocide? Please click the link and read it. It's short, but an important perspective. People gloss over statistics and even vivid first-hand accounts like this in text often fail to get our attention. In fact, I remember thinking about blogging this article, but it slipped my mind after I returned to Japan.

This morning I saw Tears of the Sun starring Bruce Willis. This movie is about a heroic extraction mission in Nigeria with ethnic cleansing as a backdrop. The movie itself and its message were not that interesting, but the scene where people are being murdered and raped by soldiers struck me emotionally and created a visual image for me of the atrocities in Sudan. It sparked me to search for and post the link above.

I think it's important to realize that motion pictures and videos have an incredible impact on us emotionally. We've discussed the risks of racial stereotyping in motion pictures and some people have criticized me for citing shallow movies about important issues. It is clear that movies play a huge role in helping us (accurately or not) understand and care about cultures.

One thing I've noticed is that amateur films and flash are being used quite effectively in political jokes and commentary on the Net. There are copyright issues with many of the works, but I believe that video blogging, (or whatever you want to call grassroots video production and sharing) can play a very important role in raising awareness on issues such as the genocide in Sudan.

Maybe we need to get Witness and Passion of the Present working together if they aren't already. Ethan?


I clicked, I read, and once again I'm horrified that humans can treat each other that way.

As a side question: what motivates you to act on these issues? I've long been a support of Amnesty but aside from donating and a few other bits and bobs, I've never really gotten that involved. The easy life is just too "easy". Is it just me?

Off to ponder.

It seems to me that it ought to be possible to construct semi-disposable digital video cameras suitable for distribution to people who are threatened by genocidal attackers. With modern wireless technology and the globalization of everydamnthing it ought to be impossible to commit the kinds of crimes that are happening in Darfur, for example, without extensive video documentation. Images may help move the world to act, or at least ensure that some fraction of the perpetrators are brought to justice.

The item I'm thinking of is something about the size of a GSM cellphone, with a crappy video camera, an extremely simple user interface, and some variant of wifi to send images to other nearby cameras or to base stations for uplink to satellite, or downloading via telephone. Cameras could be set up to relay images from one to the next until the image reaches a base station (which might be connected to a VCR, DVD burner, or some other sneakernet media). The long pole in the tent is obviously range.

I don't know if the technology is ready yet, but hopefully it will be soon.

Thanks for posting the link Joi -- that article should be required reading. And I think you're right that for the most part, until we see video of these atrocities, they will not have the kind of impact needed to provoke a call to action. At the same time, video is not the Deus Ex Machina (despite what I said to you at Etech). I still believe that's where we're headed, but it may take a generation. In the mean time it might help sensitize the first world elephant if we had low-tech CNN in places where genocide is occuring. Even post-event, it makes the story much more human to be able to see a face that goes with it. I recently read a story in a local paper which had the picture of a woman who had survived the genocide of her village, abduction and gang rape. After two years she was finally able to escape, only to discover she had contracted AIDS. Seeing her image was quite powerful, and made me realize how much more powerful it would be to hear her story in her words.

The shit that is happening in the world is making me mad. Really mad. The worst part of it is that I'm sitting here at home in my comfy office chair, listening to a Heinlein book, with the worst that could happen to me being a freak accident of some sort (meteorite through the roof?) - and I can't do squat about any of what happens down there. And it's not like Sudan is the only crappy place on Earth, where people are treated badly (to put it mildly). The people I do communicate with in South America, Asia or Africa are all lucky ones. They all have jobs and Internet access.

I mean, what possibilities do I have? Post on my weblog, write to local politicans or the exterior ministry, donate money? Let's not kid ourselves, this is effectively helping nobody.

There's got to be a better way.

PS - It should also be quite telling that half the world (well, the US anyway) gets worked up over some guy getting his head chopped off, but couldn't care less over the atrocities that happen in Africa on a daily basis.

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Tears from Nicholas Paredes
June 22, 2004 11:28 AM

It's a busy day! But, how can I not procrastinate just a little? Joi Ito's post about the attrocities in Sudan, and of course the culture think that introduces memories, is personally interesting from a couple timely perspectives. First, Read More