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citizen reporting January 30, 2009

Posted by François in cameraphones, creolization.

I (and 5,941 compadres) became a US citizen yesterday. The experience was very moving – especially the thought of 5,942 international lives converging onto the Los Angeles convention center at that precise moment. But that’s another story.

I moblogged some of it live.

At one point, the judge declares the convention hall to be a U.S. District Court so the oath ceremony can proceed, and asks the crowd to turn off all cell phones and pagers. I initially complied (thus missed recording the oath…) but then realized he didn’t say anything about cameras or recorders, so turned it back on in off-line mode to record the pledge of allegiance and national anthem.

One conclusion: it’s really hard to do live reporting with a cell phone… switching it from camera to recorder to MMS, while paying attention to our handlers’ instructions and trying not to hold up the line. Gave me lots to think about as we work with EE579 students to design a handset-based multi-media editor/preprocessor.

Your pointers to well-designed phone-based applications will be appreciated. Also, if you have developped usage practices to reliably capture and send media in the rush of the moment, we’d love to hear about them.

(This work is part of the vozmob project, in which we are inventing ways to tell stories using cheap pre-paid cellphones and MMS.)

São Paulo motoboy ethnographers (2): Re-making politics June 27, 2007

Posted by François in cameraphones, motoboys, politics, re-make.

Appropriation operates at many levels. In our paper, we highlight three: artifacts, practices and politics. People appropriate technology by re-making artifacts, by re-making individual or collective practices that exploit an artifact’s possibilities, or by re-articulating power relationships around an artifact and its use. As the motoboy project unfolds in São Paulo, it is fascinating to see how the city’s professional motorcyclists (most of them motoboys, but also a few motogirls) are engaging that third level, attempting to re-make local politics through their use of camera phones to chronicle their daily lives.

Eliezer Muniz, one of the project’s coordinators at USP, sends a useful summary of the context within which the project started (pasted below, with permission.) Here are some of the highlights: The first courier enterprises – many of them informal, micro-enterprises – emerged in São Paulo in the early 1980s. Within 10 years, there were 30,000 professional motorcycle messengers. Today, 160,000 of them work in that city of over 20 million people, whose traffic jams make Los Angeles seem almost bucolic. The motoboys are therefore essential to the local economy, shuttling the urgent blueprints, medicine, checks, samples, and hot pizza that keep business humming. Most couriers own their work tools: a motorcycle, a helmet, a cellphone, and a work license from the local authorities. They typically earn about $390 per month (R$760, or 2x Brazil’s minimum salary) and this is dangerous work – every day on average, one motorcyclist dies in São Paulo’s traffic.

Here is one of their videoclips (shot by Viralata on 2007-04-30) showing what it’s like to ride the corredor between traffic lanes at rush hour on Av. Paulista:

(there is a growing sub-genre of corredor-riding DIY videos from Brazil, which are reminiscent of the many stunt videos that can be found around YouTube. For the motoboys however, this isn’t only a thrill-seeking game, but an integral part of the job. How fast they get around the city directly determines how much they get paid.)

In recent years, informal pseudo-enterprises and self-employed individuals have started to compete with the more established courier services, leading to a deterioration of working conditions. In reaction, the local government has passed laws to regulate ‘moto-freight’, including punishing fines for motorcyclists riding the corredor. Motoboys, typically portrayed negatively in the media, have not had a voice in the ensuing political debate – until now. Apparently, their use of cellphones to publicly document their daily lives has allowed them to gain attention, for once yielding some sympathetic coverage in the Folha de São Paulo.