20 March 2008

Gunfights and Twitter. An African Perspective.

Isn’t South Africa just the most fun? We live in a land that is marked by one of the most incredible digital divides. Forget Third World South America, or Middle Africa. That’s different – technology just never got off its feet and it’ll take many years, plenty discarded US laptops and OLPC’s from heaven before the situation changes. South Africa is different.

Many people have written about our unique combination of First World business and technology with Third World infrastructure, politics and crime. But this dichotomy never really hit home till an experience I had the other night.

I live in a fairly safe neighbourhood – Craigavon. We have a wetland, and a sign that says: “Home of the Bush Baby and the Giant Bull Frog”. It has its Summercon’s, like most places in Joburg. But all in all, it’s a friendly little suburb.

On Tuesday night, I was peacefully digesting some rambling chapters of Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries, when I heard the pop-pop of distant gunfire. It happens. Except this time, the pop-pop got closer. A lot closer.

Within minutes, a full gun battle had broken out 30m outside my window. It was around 22h15. Gunshots are loud, and pretty frightening when they’re close.

I’m not sure what the average human’s first reaction is to 40 shots being fired in quick succession? Mine was to hurl my wife off the bed... and swiftly join her. This gut-reaction soon received a rethink, as I realised the bed wasn’t any kind of protection (large floor to ceiling bedroom window). The rethink sent us scurrying behind a wall – with a slight vantage point to see whether Eskom or run-of-the-mill criminals had sparked World War III.

What really baked my noodle – was my reaction to this “breaking news” as the gunfire died down and the cops moved in. We quickly phoned our contact at RSS (pun?) Security to get the scoop on what happened. Cellphone networking. Instant communication. Apparently, cops had chased four armed robbers from the highway, down into peaceful suburbia. Ensuing gun battle. Yadda. Yadda.

And then, to prove that I’m fortunate enough to be part of the First World technology drive – I had this INTENSE need to blog it. To tell the world. To get feedback. To drive traffic and get someone to click on my freakin’ Google Ads. I was profoundly excited and inwardly dismayed at this American behaviour.

So, I logged onto Fring, on my smartphone. I instant messaged some folks. And I Twittered it.


Twitter (www.twitter.com) is an interesting web application. It is essentially, a form of micro-blogging. I like to think of it as millions of people who are fascinated with each other’s FaceBook status. Andy is watching a gun fight. Andy is hiding behind a wall.

Sound meaningless? I tend to agree. But where Twitter has achieved remarkable breakthroughs in traffic (over its rival Jaiku – recently acquired by Mother Google) is in the live coverage of events.

What better way to test it. Below, is my sordid and sometimes amusing micro-blogging First World account of my very real Third World South African experience.

followandyh Massive shootout in cedar rd. 2 dead i think. Love jhb. 10:27 PM February 11, 2008 from im

followandyh Shootout cedar road. Cops got 2. Paramedics on the scene... 10:28 PM February 11, 2008 from im

followandyh Shootout cedar road. The neighbours are out. 1 guy has a beer. 10:32 PM February 11, 2008 from im

followandyh Shootout cedar road. 1 x criminal being stretchered away 10:34 PM February 11, 2008 from im

followandyh shootout cedar road. This witness needs a drink. 10:37 PM February 11, 2008 from im

followandyh shootout cedar road. Criminal screaming. In neck brace. Into ambulance. Gunshot wound? 10:38 PM February 11, 2008 from im

followandyh shootout. Apologies. Campbell rd. Clever me. It's officially a crime scene 10:40 PM February 11, 2008 from im

followandyh shootout campbell rd. On the phone with RSS for the story... 10:41 PM February 11, 2008 from im

followandyh shootout campbell rd. Apparently 4 armed robbers. No one dead. Chased from fairlands to outside my window 10:43 PM February 11, 2008 from im

followandyh shootout campbell rd. Second ambulance arrives and a third... 10:46 PM February 11, 2008 from im

followandyh shootout campbell rd. Crowd disbursing. More cops checking the crime scene 10:47 PM February 11, 2008 from im

followandyh shootout campbell rd. Got whisky. Already feeling desensitised. 10:57 PM February 11, 2008 from im

followandyh shootout campbell rd. People still mulling. Now there's a traffic jam. Go figure. 11:10 PM February 11, 2008 from im

followandyh shootout campbell rd. Well. So that's it. Over to the courts to convict. Glad no stray bullets found there way to my wall. 11:12 PM February 11, 2008 from im

followandyh AH. A Tuesday after a good gun battle is a special Tuesday. 03:48 PM February 12, 2008 from TwitterFox

I found a couple of things amusing here. Firstly, you can see the effect of adrenaline. Not only did I predict a body count from the 2nd story, 30 metres away, but I also got my road name wrong! And every good story has to have the humour character – don’t you love the guy who jumped out his car to spectate - with a beer.

It’s an interesting medium. Very instant. Very descriptive. Unfortunately, we live in South Africa. So 37 people heard me. But that’s changing...

Our country really is a truly remarkable place. The cops got the bad guys. The growing tech fraternity played with live coverage. And I’ve got a battery backup system to write this piece. Good times.

Follow my next gun battle: www.twitter.com/followandyh

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