Headed to DC on Friday, I was asked by my editor to pay attention to the ways that people were communicating and dealing with logistical issues on the spot. Would the Women’s March app be used to ping people with changes in plan, or would the massive crowds inspire an official recommendation of using peer-to-peer communications like FireChat? Would organizers encourage participants to use encrypted messaging services to protect themselves? Would there be clashes with police or anti-protest groups that warranted live video streams? In reality the only mass communication I witnessed was organizers asking participants to text a no-reply number to obtain an official tally for the march — seemingly unaware that 500,000 people sending a text in synchronization in a small space is probably impossible, and that many people had been warned not to help create records of their location and ID on protest day. For all the reasoned and confident organization the Women’s March team did before the event, they were unprepared to direct the crowd that eventually materialized before them on Saturday morning, and they didn’t use any of the tools we imagined.
One of the reasons people didn’t use their mobile devices was because the Internet tubes got clogged:
At one point, a rally speaker acknowledged that the crowd “may have seen” a news article saying the march was no longer happening because there were too many people. But there was no way to get Twitter to load in the thick of things, so most of us had not. Apps like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram were useful only on the outskirts of the protest and afterwards, to digest dispatches that had been sent whenever a signal could be ferreted out.
To get things done in life sometimes you have to put down your iPhone and get your hands dirty. Talk to people face-to-face, not through a text message with emoji characters.