Designers Pedro G. C.Oliveira and Xuedi Chen, with support from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University, have created “Backlash”, a series of devices that allow activists to connect during protests. These include a smart bandana for embedding hidden messages, networked wearable devices, personal black box devices to register abuse of law enforcement and routers for off-grid communication.
The project’s primary aim is to provoke thought on the subject, rather than act as a call to action. The designers want to spark a dialogue about freedom of expression, riots and disruptive technology.
Technology plays an ever more important role in protests among both activists and authorities. Social media networks are protestors' primary tool for spreading their message; however, authorities are able to cut connectivity and use advanced technologies to subdue activism.
The creators of Backlash urge that it has “not been created with a political agenda nor is it a call to action”. However, the devices spark the conversation about the disparity between activists and authority technology during protests. Does this protect the right to free speech? Or does a tech race between citizens and authorities mean protests become less peaceful and enable riots? Riots often distort the initial message of protests and lead to more civilian harm and an aggressive approach from governments.
This increase in direct action displays the turbulence of the global political climate. Preparing for riots might give protestors the ability to fight back against authorities, but it also creates an ominous view of our future.
On the other hand, the right to free speech in today's world is highly intertwined with connectivity. Is ensuring the ability to speak over devices during a protest as necessary as voicing your message in real life?