London calling to the imitation zones

Like many others, I felt I had to write something about the riots in London. This is my city and my home and it’s sad to see it desecrated by the violent minority. I find the looting particularly shameful, because that cannot be excused as political; it’s stealing. Political protestors don’t generally take the trouble to try on trainers and sift through the plasma TVs and smartphones to find their favourite brand. If the looters were truly deprived, they would be looking for essentials, not luxury brands. One tweet described this as consumerism gone mad. 

There has been a lot of comment about the role of social media. Did social media help the riots spread from north-east London across the city and out to the regions? Well perhaps it did, but then other media were spreading news too – TV, radio and internet offered constant live coverage. There have been news items on various media about rioters using BlackBerry to organise themselves. Although this represents some poisonous branding for BlackBerry that must be delighting its competitors, I would have thought the rioters were also using other smartphone brands as well – and since the looting no doubt they have a good selection, and probably iPads too. Did social media highlight the issues that spread the riots across the country? Not sure about that – but all those in the imitation zones had to do was watch the news to see what was going on. They didn’t  need Facebook or Twitter. People who blame social media need to accept that it has simply become part of our society – for better and worse. Actually, the need to follow the news brought me back to the radio after quite a long break – as I could listen and still get on with my work, whereas checking websites (even Twitter and Facebook) means leaving the page I’m working on.

Facebook and Twitter may have spread the news faster but they have also spread solidarity. I have seen – and liked – Facebook posts saying let’s not let this stop us going about our everyday lives. And many of us whose homes and livelihoods remain relatively unaffected are doing just that. Londoners are not staying home – we’re going into work, going shopping, going out. I went to the hairdresser yesterday and it was buzzing – yes, Londoners are still looking good!

There are Twitter hashtags and Facebook pages devoted to the big clean up. Twitter reported on the worst affected zones before other media – giving the rest of us a chance to find safe routes around the city. People from all over the world were checking Facebook and Twitter to make sure their friends and family were ok. Before social media, we relied on getting decent mobile reception during an emergency, and anyone who has tried this will know how frustrating and worrying it can be. All we could do then was leave messages, wait and hope.

As a Londoner born and bred, I should point out that terrorism and violence are nothing new here. In my lifetime, Londoners have faced terrorism ranging from IRA bombs in the 1970s and 1980s to the horror of the 7/7 attacks. They have been caught up in violent incidents here and abroad. Londoners are resilient. Yesterday evenig there was a strange atmosphere – a kind of post-apocalyptic hush – but the streets were as crowded as ever. London is a big, dirty city. Its diversity is part of its unique character. So is its solidarity and spirit. Yesterday’s news showed communities working together to clean up the aftermath of the riots. Here’s hoping all the other cities affected by riots and looting yesterday also show the same spirit and pull together to repair and recover.

Having written an upbeat post, my thoughts are with people in London and in our other cities whose lives and livelihoods have been damaged by the riots through no fault of their own – just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I hope they get all the help and support they need to get back on track.

Where did I get my headline? All credit to The Clash – London Calling – from 1979





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