Smart Mobs (book fragments)

This page is a category page for fragments from the book Smart Mobs by Howard Rheingold.

Smart Mobs fragments

Fragments from the book

Tragedy of the Commons

Hardin, author of “The Tragedy of the Commons”, writes: “Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit—in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.”

tags: commons, responsibility

Collective Action Dilemmas

Marc Smith: “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 in seven words.

tags: media

The Internet Untethered

The telegraph, like the Internet…transformed social and business practices, but it could be used only by skilled operators. Its benefits became available to the public at large only when the telegraph evolved into the telephone—initially known as the “speaking telegraph.” The Internet is still in a telegraphic stage of development, in the sense that the complexity and expense of PCs prevent many people from using it. The mobile phone thus promises to do for the Internet what the telephone did for the telegraph: to make it a truly mainstream technology.

Because it used the same wires, the telephone was originally seen as merely a speaking telegraph, but it turned out to be something entirely new. The same mistake is already being repeated with the Internet. Many people expect the mobile Internet to be the same as the wired version, only mobile, but they are wrong….Instead, the mobile Internet, although it is based on the same technology as the fixed-line Internet, will be something different and will be used in new and unexpected ways.

Tom Standage, from The Internet Untethered

tags: media, mobile-ph

Internet as Public Resource

I asked Lessig to explain what he meant when he said that the Internet was a public resource “held in common,” rather than divided up among private owners. Lessig pointed to the difference between railroad and highway regulation. In a railroad, the individual cars have no intelligence, and only one train can be on a specific stretch of track at a time, so railroads must be carefully centrally coordinated. Automobiles, however, presumably have intelligent drivers who can figure out how to get where they need to go without colliding with other vehicles. Central coordination is no longer required. ‘The highway is a commons,’ Lessig explained. Everybody has access to the highway, nobody needs permission to use the highway system, anyone can start a trucking company and use the system. The devices that you can use on the highway commons are regulated—you can’t drive a tank, and if you have no lights, you’ll be pulled over. Lessig noted, in light of the railroad/highway comparison, ‘Regulation of spectrum could move from the world of railroads, where central coordinators have to figure out who uses the track when, to the world of highways, where smart devices figure out how to use their common resource as they actually want.

tags: commons, decentralization

Creative Destruction

New technologies have a history of destroying the dominance of prior technologies or making them obsolete. Joseph Schumpeter claimed that ‘this process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism.’ Lessig reminded me of Machiavelli’s counterpoint to Schumpeter: ‘Innovation makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old regime, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new.’

Intelligent Emergence

What happens when the individuals in a tightly coordinated group are more highly intelligent creatures rather than simpler organisms like insects or birds? How do humans exhibit emergent behavior? As soon as this question occurred to me, I immediately recalled the story Kevin Kelly told at the beginning of Out of Control, his 1994 book about the emergent behavior in biology, machinery, and human affairs. He described an event at an annual film show for computer graphics professionals. A small paddle was attached to each seat in the auditorium, with reflective material of contrasting colors on each side of the paddle. The screen in the auditorium displayed a high-contrast, real-time video view of the audience. The person leading the exercise, computer graphics wizard Loren Carpenter, asked those on one side of the auditorium aisle to hold the paddles with one color showing and asked the other half of the audience to hold up the opposite color. Then, following Carpenter’s suggestions, the audience self-organized a dot that moved around the screen, added a couple of paddles on the screen, and began to play a giant game of self-organized video Pong, finally creating a graphical representation of an airplane and flying it around the screen. Like flocks, there was no central control of the exercise after Carpenter made a suggestion. Member of the audience paid attention to what their neighbors were doing and what was happening on the screen. Kelly used this as an example of a self-conscious version of flocking behavior.

tags: emergence, decentralization

Swarm Systems

Characteristics of “swarm systems”:

  • the absence of imposed centralized control
  • the autonomous nature of subunits
  • the high connectivity between the subunits
  • the webby nonlinear causality of peers influencing peers

tags: decentralization

Sliding Sense of Time

In the mobile culture one lives with the other foot permanently planted in the future, using the mobile to administer and manage his or her future meetings and affairs. Places and times are not planned in advance; rather people agree (or just understand without further mention) to call ‘when they get there.’ This makes life less bound, since it is possible to arrange each day according to the events it brings about.

The mobile maintains a readiness for flexible meetings and for arranging them as befits the day….The mobile blurs the previously organized everyday structure and shifts it to a more flexible direction. This brings about a change in our perception of time, so that the notion of a previously produced, organized future is replaced by a sliding sense of time which is constantly tilted towards the future. The future is no longer conceived as something consisting of exact moments as much as of approximate time places-in-time which are open to negotiation according to the situation.

tags: mobile-ph

Networks as Community

One of Wellman’s claims is that “we find community in networks, not groups.” He explained that “a group is a special type of network: densely-knit (most people are directly connected), tightly-bounded (most ties stay within the densely-knit cluster), and multistranded (most ties contain many role relationships),” and he challenged conventional thinking about how people cluster socially:

Although people often view the world in terms of groups, they function in networks. In networked societies, boundaries are permeable, interactions are with diverse others, connections switch between multiple networks, and hierarchies can be flatter and recursive. The change from groups to networks can be seen at many levels. Trading and political blocs have lost their monolithic character in the world system. Organizations form complex networks of alliance and exchange rather than cartels, and workers report to multiple peers and superiors…. Communities are far-flung, loosely-bounded, sparsely-knit, and fragmentary. Most people operate in multiple, thinly-connected, partial communities as they deal with networks of kin, neighbors, friends, workmates and organizational ties. Rather than fitting into the same group as those around them, each person has his/her own 'personal community.'

tags: network

4 Key Elements to Smart Mobs

According to Howard Rheingold, the four key elements to smart mobs are:

  • Communication
  • Computation
  • Reputation
  • Location awareness.
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