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Welcome to the WebCam War

It’s bizarre, the contrast between two worlds. The one, where CNN has a Webcam streaming footage from a 7th cavalry Bradley fighting vehicle dashing through he desert towards Baghdad and the other, an Iraqi news conference, complete with Mohammed Diyab Al Ahmed, the AK47 toting Interior Minister, issuing a long monologue, claiming that the American ‘mercenaries’ are fleeing from Iraqi forces.

As predicted, this is the first true Web-war and and 'The Mother of all WebCams'. Some sites have been straining under the load. The BBC, always like watching paint dry, is slower than ever and the Home Office is finding it hard to keep-up with the interest on how one should protect oneself from the threat of terrorism and why chicken soup is a traditional remedy against anthrax.

Of course, CNN and the BBC and the army of journalists who think they may be in Iraq, may be the victims of an elaborate confidence trick. After all, we know that man never landed on the moon and in fact the footage was shot in a studio in Burbank, California. But for the first time in history, being able to watch the military’s progress in real-time, does illustrate the contrast between one society which has no true sense of the influence and reach of technology and the other, which can, from the CNN website, watch the progress of the advance, as General Custer’s armoured cavalry – remember ‘Apocalypse Now’ - looks for an enemy to fight or a beach to surf from.

The irony, as in the last Gulf war, is that the Iraqi government are forced to watch CNN to find out what’s happening in their own country, whether they believe what they see or not.

From a technology perspective, this war, regardless of its justification and validity, marks the end of one technology era and the beginning of another. Until now, we have lived in the early years of the Internet revolution. Like the industrial revolution that preceded it and the printing revolution before that, the transition period was one of rapid and dramatic innovation, characterised by the Internet ‘Bubble’ effect. Today, in many parts of the developed world, the technology has achieved and moved beyond critical mass and is increasingly pervasive. This can be illustrated only too well as I write this column, while simultaneously watching a fully-laden B52 departing from RAF Fairford on BBC News 24 and the CNN Webcam of the 7th cavalry advance along the Euphrates valley.

This ability to deliver information to an individual is unprecedented and illustrates how much our world has changed since the last Gulf war. When you consider that US troops are also using Instant Messaging and the Internet for real-time information then the violent collision of two worlds, the post-industrial and the post-Internet becomes visible, setting an agenda which will spread ripples of unrest across the region for years to come.

A one-time Royal Marine and UK Technology ‘Ambassador’ to the Gulf in 2002, Dr Simon Moores is the editor of an egovernance information resource for Middle-eastern governments.


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