Smart Mobs

Just finished “Smart Mobs” by Howard Rheingold. The title is clever (and will likely become a meme) but I don’t think it accurately describes the book. That said, he takes a broad stroke and effectively mixes sociology, economics, anthropology, politics and computer science in an attempt to explain the changes in our culture brought about by new technology (mainly wireless, but I think it is limiting to focus on that). It has been a while since I have read a book that adeptly quotes some of my favorite thinkers (Horkeimer, Adorno, Lessig, Foucault, Hobbes…). Review continues…

The basic understanding of Smart Mobs: “Location-sensing wireless organizers, wireless networks, and community supercomputing collectives all have one thing in common: They enable people to act together in ways and in situations where collective action was not possible before.” I believe Recipezaar fits in the latter group.

Everyone talks about the SMS- and IM-kids, but Reingold gets to the interesting socialogical aspect: the type of conversation has not only changed from real exchange to simple ‘ex tempore’ comments, but the shift is in the fact that they live their lives with others in real time, it is the feeling of a “continuously shared life”.

Other quotes I draw inspiration for Recipezaar from:

“What do people gain from virtual communitues that keeps them sharing information with people they might never meet face to face?”
Smith’s (a guy in MSFT Research I met and liked) answer was “social network capital, knowledge capital, and communion” — people can put a little of what they know and how they feel into the online network and draw out larger amounts of knowledge and opportunities for sociability than they put in. …
“Whenever a communication medium lowers the costs of solving collective action dilemmas, it becomes possible for more people to pool resources. And ‘more people pooling resources in new ways’ is the history of civilization. …
“Monitoring and sanctioning is important not simply as a way of punishing rule-breakers but also as a way of assuring people that others are doing their part. Many people are contingent cooperators, willing to cooperate as long as most others do. …
“Social pressure, for insult to incarceration, to make good on debts or obligations helps communities maintain the essential collective good of trust.” Reputation, whether maintained by gossip, ritual behavioral displays, credit bureaus, or online reputations servers, appears to be one of teh means by which people negotiate the daty-to-day dance of self-interest and public goods.”

on napster: “What a peer-to-peer network can do is provide a commons where the sheep shit grass, where every user provisions the resource he consumes.”

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