In Plaça de Catalunya, just across the street from the Apple store and a stone’s throw from Samsung’s “Come In Have Fun” building in Barcelona, lies a tent city. For more than a month, the inhabitants of the dozen or so tents have been demonstrating, advocating for the democratic process and the right of self-determination for Catalonia.
Named Despertem La República (Wake Up Republic), the movement is protesting the Spanish government, which the group says has “violated the basic principles of the democracy, acting repressively all around the state.” A sign at the site asks visitors to follow the group on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Telegram.
Despertem La República is just one manifestation of the unrest in Catalonia. Yellow ribbons and flags hang throughout the city. A recent article in The Financial Times (registration required) summarizes the controversy.
I saw the tent city while in Barcelona last week to attend Mobile World Congress, where technology advances enabling the mobile ecosystem were discussed ad nauseum. This citizen uprising reminds me of the meaning of what we do: the goal of our technology is to empower people to communicate and share ideas, compressing distance and time and multiplying the conversations. We enable people to connect beyond borders, so we might understand and, hopefully, support one another.
Our wired and wireless internet technology enables the voices of individuals and groups to have a greater impact in the world, unfiltered by gatekeepers, whether the impulse is good or bad. Unfortunately, we’ve seen disturbing examples of the downsides, when networks are used by individuals, organizations and governments to promote division, leading to hatred and, in extreme cases, violence.
The 5G use cases I heard discussed in the halls at Fira Barcelona Gran Via last week centered on data rates, self-driving vehicles, remote surgery, factory automation and connected cities — all portrayed as revolutionary improvements to our lives. As we launch this fifth generation of mobile technology, multiplying network capacity and reducing latency, I think we also need to invest in user protocols, meaning the rights and responsibilities of global citizenship and how to constructively use these tools without fanning fear and conflict. Our institutions — government, corporate and private — need work, as well, to be accountable to the society they serve.
Perhaps we need to slow the technology development until we, the people, catch up and learn how to use it.