This week, after the horrendous terrorist attack in Mumbai, I mull a bit on what I think is the world's first instance of Convergence Terrorism. Or Terrorism 2.0, if you will.
When the 9/11 attacks happened in New York in 2001, the attackers used credit cards and pilot licences, but their weapons were primitive box cutters, and they simply rammed the planes into their targets.
Mumbai, 2008 was different—This one saw the terrorists use geographical positioning system (GPS) devices in a sea-borne attack, followed by satellite phones that are believed to have been used to coordinate attacks led by overseas masterminds. Television channels came in for criticism because their live broadcasts may have inadvertently led to the sharing of information or details that might have helped masterminds direct operations even better. Worse, as some say, media publicity is what the terrorists want anyway.
But, can you blame media or technology for all this? I think not.
Think of it another way. Hundreds of people were saved by text messages from mobile phones that went back and forth between those trapped in the Taj and Oberoi (Trident) hotels and those who were planning to return. An announcer at the CST railway station warned off passengers through the public address system, while city-wise panic might have been doused by a quick breaking of the right news.
Relief work was organised on Internet blogs by sites such as http://mumbaihelp.blogspot.com. Now, people are forming groups on social networking sites like Facebook to decide on action to express solidarity, influence public opinion and debate the issues at hand. Bloggers are putting pressure on conventional media to act as a countervailing force to improve both competence and responsibility.
Technology is a neutral force. It is better to make it your friend before an adversary does.