Technologies of Resilience

Three events, seen or heard in quick succession via the media today, put a new question in my head to explore here—what are the Technologies of Resilience? This question is one culmination of having followed and considered the thoughts of John Robb and his peers looking into the possibilities of resilient communities as a response to the perils of globalization (vulnerability to terrorism, system collapse, network failure, peak oil, etc), as well as the field work of folks like Jan Chipchase of Nokia, Erik Hersman of AfriGadget, and Kevin Kelly who, like many others worldwide, are taking a closer look into the innovative uses of technology in the developing and underdeveloped world.

The first two events that provoked this question today are somewhat related: one is the highly skillful and clever use of technology by the Mumbai attackers last week to both orchestrate and carry out their audacious assault. With a few thousand dollars of technology, they not only designed the highly disruptive attack, but also manage to orient themselves, stay in contact and monitor the situation attack turned to siege. Likewise, equally industrious and motivated people "on the street" from Mumbai to Minneapolis organized awareness, and response in some cases. People assumed power, moved and reacted with a high degree of flexibility and resilience, while the "powers that be" moved in some cases much more slowly, leaning on a large and brittle set of tools and infrastructure to respond.

The second was the use of technology, in less complex and nefarious ways, by the occupiers of Bangkok airport—the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) this past week. Apparently the PAD runs its protest operations like clockwork, and the airport incident was a model of efficiency and customer service seldom seen in airports—mobile phones could be recharged while you waited out the protest, among other things.

Third, and much simpler, was the story reported today about the British doctor in DR Congo who successfully managed an emergency amputation while being instructed by text message from a surgeon in the UK. While it shouldn't become mainstream practice, technology was used in this situation to overcome a lack of resources, while tapping expert knowledge to solve a problem.

So, military-style attacks, manning of a large airport, delicate surgery. Three activities which typically require complex organizations, costly manpower and infrastructure, and often long supply chains, have been compressed into a small, light, flexible space. My question(s): If the flashing red lights all around us tell us that we are reaching the limits of a complex, globalized economy, brittle political and economic infrastructure and social cohesion, much of it through the continued application of equally complex and massive technologies, how do we flip that equation? How, and with what, do we develop greater resilience at all levels, and what are the technologies that can take us there? Many of them may be the usual suspects that we use now, but applied differently.