I’ve stayed my pen about the riots in London because they’re happening in what I consider to be my London. What I mean is: when that Eyjafjallajoekull erupted andtrapped me in England, I spent about 80 percent of the time staying with a friend in Crouch End, and while my friend taught or held office hours or sat through faculty meetings, I would wander the streets of North London. So strong is my affinity for the area that I ended up supporting Tottenham—and you can see where this is going. I’ve invested in the area in the way that only an idle victim of circumstance can: fully cognizant of the illegitimacy of his claim upon it, but feeling an abiding connection to it anyway. Knowing this, Michael Sayeau—who wrote eloquently about his experience for n+1—recommended I follow the riots via Twitter, and so I spent an anxious evening reading about the destruction of a place I have no right to care for as greatly as I do.
One of the most surreal aspects of watching the riots unfold on Twitter and a grid of Twitpics was that it quickly became apparent that people weren’t simply commenting on the looting, they were actively coordinating it. ”We should hit this shop next,” one person would write, only to be shouted down by a group of people who thought it more prudent to hit another shop instead. It quickly became apparent that an unusual organization had emerged through the clutter of social media: it operated openly and encouraged criminality, all while imposing order on a what otherwise would’ve appeared to be the random development of a conflagration.
This use of technology to outwit and outstrip a government’s ability to react to escalating unrest should have immediately struck me as familiar, being that it’s the premise of Adam Roberts‘s novel New Model Army—a book in which I’m not only thanked in the acknowledgments, but in which I believe I make an appearance. (Adam denies it, but if the crazy academic in a brown suit and a Watchmen t-shirt isn’t me, he at least belongs to my tribe.) Point being: the connection between the acephalous organization of Adam’s radically democratic military organizations and what I was witnessed on Twitter last week speaks to the power of speculative fiction and, more frighteningly, the pace at which contemporary society makes good on its speculations.