Report From Riot Torn London

Report From Riot Torn London

Piers Fawkes provides a personal report on the chaos in British society.

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
  • 9 august 2011

It was disappointing and embarrassing when a cabbie let me know this morning that more chaos had transcended on London and beyond last night. I had just got in to London from New York and until I chatted to the cabbie as I watched the meter rise I had no sense of the troubles that had been caused across the capital and into other cities. I emailed my wife about how beautiful the city with its parks was in the summer sunshine but as this day has gone on I’ve noticed ugliness: a heavy police presence around stations and as I passed a line of police vans in Oxford Circus (where Nike’s flagship store is based) some of the coppers dressed in drab overalls looked like they were itching for a fight.

The police, you see, seem to have been caught with their proverbial ‘trousers down’. A second night of rioting and people watching their TVs see the police arriving in small numbers unable to control or even be involved in the scene. They were left to watch. In some places looting lasted for an hour and a half before the police turned up.

No doubt, tonight there will be more buildings burned, more goods stolen, more lives put at risk, more businesses destroyed across the UK but by the look of the organization of the grimacing police officers just now – many areas will be ready to respond (but maybe not fully contain)

What is fueling this chaos? On a practical level these young people are using social media and text messaging to organize, assemble as a group then disperse very quickly. The very same tools we’ve marveled at for their use to bring down Arab countries, cheating British soccer stars and revealing politicians is now being used to cause mayhem. It causes a conundrum – we don’t mind a free internet that causes disruption when it’s in a country we don’t live in and we’re told we don’t like, but when it comes ‘home’ people quickly react and ask for social networks like ‘Facebook’ to be taken down.

I’m upset and even concerned about my safety when I go out tonight to see friends. I’m disappointed because like many people here I don’t want to believe this is happening in England, in Britain. I don’t want to hear about disenfranchised youths and that ‘we should have seen this coming’ from the British press (who we should remind ourselves aren’t quite the knights in shining armor they’d like us to believe) – I want the culture here to know that this is wrong. But there is a culture for some people here that says that it’s ok to cause this disturbance. It’s embarrassing to think a country that prides itself on education, culture, science, business and ethics can act in this way. Sadly, it seems that many Britons seem to have have left it to the British press to make judgement and drive change. The people seem to want to be shocked but they don’t want to get together to act to resolve this. Compared to New York, London is far more a society of the individual. For many here, it’s simply someone else’s job to clear this up and that will impede progress here.

For the young people who took part in the destruction, their behavior is pointless. While they ‘partied’ in the burning streets, their phone use, their text messages, their mobile-camera shots, their status updates are all trackable and can be traced to the individual. The phones stolen from the stores all have unique IDs that can be tracked. Did they forget that there is no privacy today or did they choose to ignore it?

As a final point I want to say that I feel that while the unrest can’t be excused by changes the global economy, there must be a connection. Has the recession divided the economy into two – a fast track information rich technologically enabled one with low employment needs where people like myself do fine, and an slowing media saturated analog economy that can’t provide the jobs for the large numbers of people trained to work in it. On both sides of the Atlantic you have a growing number of unemployables. In the Economist Magazine I read on my flight from Newark, there was a lengthy article about whether Britain could create a Bill Gates type figure, whether the British government could create financial situations that fuel the tech power of Silicon Valley. Seeing the anarchy on the streets on TV it makes me wonder whether the discussion is on the wrong subject – instead of spending money finding and funding a British Zuckerberg, maybe it’s worth spending the time and effort reskilling a huge number of folks who don’t fit into the future.


Turn Any Wearable Into A Mental Health Tracker

Fitness / Sport
Work Yesterday

Amazon Is Experimenting With A 30-Hour Work Week

The online retailer is launching a pilot program that will allow a technical team to work with a considerably shortened schedule

Fitness / Sport Yesterday

How The Rio Olympics Stood For More Than Just Games

PSFK rounds out the Rio Games with our picks for the finest moments beyond sports


Get PSFK's Latest Report: Future of Work

See All
Retail Yesterday

Mobile Travel App Embraces Cognitive Computing

The Orlando Tourism Board is looking to IBM Watson to provide personalized local recommendations for visitors


Christopher Bauder

Interactive Light Design

Automotive Yesterday

Bike-Friendly Apartment Building For Swedish Cyclists

A residential space is being designed for commuters to easily transport goods

Advertising Yesterday

Nike Takes Over An Entire City Block With A Giant Running Track

The Unlimited Stadium is shaped like a 100-meter sole print of the brand's LunarEpic sneaker

Gaming Yesterday

Fortune Cookie Service Brings Bad News To Your Doorstep

To promote their new delivery service Blackbox, the creators of Cards Against Humanity are delivering unfortunate messages in an edible form


Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders

PSFK Op-Ed august 25, 2016

Retail Expert: What Sustainability Means To The Millennial Generation

Jo Godden, Founder of RubyMoon, discusses how brands can limit their environmental impact worldwide

PSFK Labs Yesterday

New Mentorship Ecosystems Benefit All Levels Of An Organization

PSFK’s Future of Work report explores how technology is being leveraged to support cross-team communication

Arts & Culture Yesterday

This Picture Frame Could Be The Lava Lamp For A New Generation

Slow Dance makes real objects appear to move in slow motion

Work Yesterday

Editorial Roundtable: How Will Companies Staff The Workplace Of The Future?

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary, AltSchool and thinkPARALLAX examine the ways that a people-first workplace might disrupt the job hiring process

Arts & Culture Yesterday

Airport Mural Puts Passengers In The Clouds

The installation in an Amsterdam terminal lets travelers float through a series of billowing 3D digital shapes

Automotive Yesterday

DevBot Is An Intelligent, Driverless, Electric Car

The unmanned test vehicle from RoboRace is a preview of upcoming AI race models

Augmented / Virtual Reality Yesterday

AR Ski Goggles Make Racing Down The Slopes Even More Immersive

Israeli startup RideOn weaves digital overlays into the thrill of skiing with an unconventional pair of protective eyewear


Rio Olympics
Innovation Coverage From The Rio Games

Advertising Yesterday

Japan Wants To Make 2020 Olympic Medals From Recycled Electronic Waste

The Tokyo Games could showcase the first-ever gold, silver and bronze awards made from discarded phones and computers

Culture Yesterday

This Small Town Has Become A Hide-and-Seek World Championship Destination

An old abandoned village in Northern Italy has become a massive playground for over one hundred competitive players

Design Yesterday

Garmin’s New Smartwatch Is Challenging The Luxury Market

The brand adds a premium version of its popular multi-sport trainer to its accessories collection

No search results found.