New Media Trainee

March 20, 2007

Smart Mobs, the second half of the book

Filed under: Uncategorized — tenftpole @ 1:35 am

Rheingold begins the second half of Smart Mobs discussing virtual reality, smart rooms, wearable computers which would be location aware. These wearable computers would put electronic overlays on something like a tree and the user could gather information about that specific tree. Kooky…and hopefully far off in the future, because I don’t want to walk around in a world of people with helmets on. As location awareness gets more accurate though, I can imagine that things (landmarks, plants, buildings) will be labeled digitally similar to how they are on google earth.

I’m more intrigued by the idea of smart rooms which react to you. It would be cool to move around a building and be able to access your desktop on whatever monitor you wanted to. I could imagine being in a kitchen and putting a product on the counter…a computer would recognize the ingredient by barcode or RFID and suggest recipes.

 

Regardless of where this technology takes us, Rheingold makes a convincing argument that reputation is still going to be a major factor in the future of technology as it applies to things like commerce. Rheingold says “reputation marks the spot where technology and cooperation converge (p.114). He uses eBay as the present example of how reputation works. People who sell on eBay get buyer feedback and if the feedback is good, they can become power sellers. If you haven’t used eBay before, this is often a major consideration before buying an item. You want to make sure you’re going to get what you pay for from the seller. It doesn’t guarantee you won’t get ripped off, but if a person has a low rating, you may think twice before dealing with them. When the consumer has input into a merchant’s reputation status, it’s a good thing for other consumers. I think this would be great for mechanics or plumbers…people who sometimes rip us off.

 

Of course, a lot of this won’t happen unless we can achieve a public commons wireless network available to everyone. Unfortunately, the
US has sold so much of the spectrum bands to telecommunication companies and others who have invested millions of dollar its future. There is an argument that Rheingold illuminates which argues that there should be an open spectrum, but regulated devices similar to the internet. I can see why companies who have invested millions in the development and infrastructure would not want to cease control of these spectrums.

 

But, I can also see the potential of smart mobs to do even greater things in the future with an open spectrum and “wireless blanket” throughout a city. Rheingold uses the examples of the World Bank Protest and the overthrow of Estrada in the Phillipines. These were primarily successful because of mobile phones. Imagine the future with a 3G, mobile web mobile. Imagine working for an advocacy campaign, developing a web 2.0 application that allows people on your listserv to receive a letter to their congressman that they could sign and send from their mobile to advocate an issue. It’s a boring example, but one in which I could envision smart mobs improving democracy.

 

Speaking of democracy, how are we going to insure that we maintain our privacy. Are we trading or privacy for the convenience or entertainment technology gives to us? Personally, I don’t think we are, but it’s a risk that many of us take each day. Some people argue that because of current technologies, that we no longer have privacy. I think that’s an ignorant argument. It’s one thing if you give away your right to privacy, but quite another if it’s taken from you without your knowledge. Policy advocates are going to need to inform legislation to protect the privacy of individuals. That’s one of the major solutions.

 

Overall, I like this book and the cool factor of all the upcoming technologies. My primary concern though is how we communicate with each other. What will these technologies do to our interpersonal relationships? We already stare into our Blackberries or mobiles at church or in meetings at work. Rheingold brings up a great point about how these types of behaviors effect eye contact. Eye contact is important in our culture. Good eye contact communicates trust. As a society, we’re already beginning to forgive people who talk on their mobile in the middle of a busy restaurant. We’re becoming desensitized to it to a degree and perhaps that’s how we’ll continue to evolve, but I think that would be a shame.

 

Geoff

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