New Media Trainee

March 13, 2007

Smart Mobs….

Filed under: Uncategorized — tenftpole @ 1:51 am

My head hurts after reading the first three chapters of Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs. It’s pretty much like taking a sip out of a fire hose. However, it’s exactly the type of terminology and theories I need to know to understand why social networking and the resulting smart mobs that result from it are reshaping our societies on a global level.


If I can use my mobile in the future to look for restaurants in an unfamiliar neighborhood or buy a soda from a vending machine without putting in money, then that’s changing life as I know it. I’m not sure I can even contemplate all the implications. If you take into account Moore’s law, then anything in the future is possible (brain chips, insanely small cameras that big brother could use to spy on us, or AI holograms that appear on your car dashboard for directions and much more. It seriously reminds me of the movie “Demolition Man” that starred Sylvester Stallone. Everything was automated and sterile. I’m not sure that we’re not heading down that road and I can’t say it’s bad, just different. I can only imagine that in the next century, neo-Luddite groups will begin to grow because of these powerful technologies . 



The important thing Rheingold points out is that it’s not about building the tools, but what people use those tools to do. He really delves deeply into this concept in Chap 2 where he presents the idea of collective action, illustrating how cooperation is evident: from social networks to our own genetic material. Sure, there will always be free riders, but Rheingold also presents a lot of evidence, especially in Chap 3, that there are just as many contributers.


He also presents a number of theories, including game theories, that will help researchers to understand group behaviors (reciprocity, cooperation, reputation) which may emerge from smart mob technologies. This is important because we should really try to understand the ethical, legal, and social implications of any technology before it is full blown so that we can make the proper policy decisions and take better advantage of the benefits these technologies offer. I believe the Human Genome Project is a good model for this concept.


One example is the privacy dilemma presented by the mobile internet which would rely on GPS in 3G mobile phones as well as the trail being left on the mobile network. I think John Batelle, who wrote The Search, could see a number of parallels with privacy arguments as they pertain to google. I think the mobile internet presents even more scary privacy scenarios due to the fact that it would be used more like a remote control and a person would use it to make many personal revealing decisions. Where they eat, where they’ve been….Google has nothing on privacy compared to the mobile internet.

Another issue Rheingold writes about in Smart Mobs is peer to peer and distributed computing. This is where he tries to show how cooperation is occurring through social networking and the internet. You can donate your computer’s idle time to contribute it’s power to finding extraterrestrial intelligence or to crunch life science data to identify new drugs. There are a dozen other instances he mentions. That’s a powerful idea, because a person can do something fairly simple, but through social networking, it has a major impact in contributing the computer power needed to crunch some of the world’s biggest problems. Of course, Rheingold also talks about the fall of Napster by those who control the internet and can decide what you can or can’t use it for. The internet was created to benefit everyone, but corporations saw the value in it. It’s analogous to what Music Television did to music in the 80’s. They ruined it to some degree by exploiting it. Thank God for freeware and web 2.0. I think that will help give the internet back to the people on some level.

I can’t help but be a bit more optimistic about the future after reading Smart Mobs, and I really understand how it all started after reading The Cathedral and Bazaar by Eric Raymond. It is the story of Linux. Batelle talked about it in his book. It’s really the idea of using people who are computer literate as a talent pool to improve things on the internet. In the early days, it was email programs, but now you can see it in thing like Wikipedia. It’s collaboration on a large level. With Unix, it was a few programmers working to get things perfect, while Linux was all about releasing early and often even if the program contained a few bugs. At least you knew someone out there was smarter than you and could hack on the problem. The story of Linux explains everything we use and do on the internet. It also is responsible for the virtues of open source.  Linus Torvald deserves a Nobel prize, though I’m sure a lot of people despise him for giving so much away for the public good.


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