For over twenty years, Howard Rheingold has explored the development of new technologies in the fascinating interplay between these technologies and the people who use them. Having foreseen the revolutionary impact of the PC in the 1980s and the Internet in the 1990s, he began to sense a new wave of innovation as he observed people interacting in new ways through their cellular phones, pagers, PDAs, and hand-held computers – wireless devices that put the power of instant and ubiquitous communication literally within everyone’s grasp.
Rheingold’s journey around the world to understand this phenomenon offers a rare glimpse into the emergence of the next techno-cultural shift. From Tokyo to Seattle, Helsinki to Manhattan, he takes us backstage into the lairs of the inventors and engineers who are creating ever-smaller and more powerful devices, and to the front lines, where people are experimenting with them. From the fanciful (“Lovegeties” in Japan that light up when a potential mate appears in the vicinity) to the extraordinary (the overthrow of repressive regimes in the Philippines and Senegal by cell-phone wielding activists) to the chilling (celebrity stalkers and terrorists coordinating via encoded text messages), these “smart mobs” represent a fundamentally new form of social conductivity, where the physical and virtual worlds meet, and where people can communicate across space and time to engage in collective action on a scale never before achieved. Rheingold goes on to consider a wide spectrum of implications stemming from these developments, such as the evolution of membership and “reputation” systems, evolving pressure from media cartels and government agencies to control use and access, and potential threats to privacy and security.
Applying insights from sociology, artificial intelligence, economics, and anthropology, Rheingold offers a penetrating perspective on the brave new convergence of pop culture, cutting-edge technology, and social activism. At the same time, he reminds us that the real impact of mobile communications will come Not from the technology itself but from how people use it, resisted, adapt to it, and ultimately transform themselves, their communities, and their institutions.
Howard Rheingold is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the social implications of technology. Over the past twenty years he has travelled around the world, observing and writing about emerging trends in computing, communications, and culture. One of the creators and former founding executive editor of HotWired, he has served as editor of The Whole Earth Review, editor-in-chief of The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog, and on-line host for The Well. The author of several books, including The Virtual Community, Virtual Reality, and Tools for Thought, he lives in Mill Valley, California. Visit his website at www.smartmobs.com.