November 25, 2002
Howard Rheingold On Smart Mobs and the Next Social Revolution

A Howard Rheingold Trading Card

I went to see Howard Rheingold speak at some bookstore on the Haight a few nights ago -- I've read excerpts from a friend of mine's copy of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, and I can already highly recommend it.

Howard also recently did an interview on the well too.

This is not to say that smart mobs are wise mobs. Not all groups who use new technologies to organize collective action have socially beneficial ends in mind. Criminals, totalitarian governments, spammers, will all be able to take advantage of new capabilities -- just as the first to take advantage of tribes, nation-states, markets, networks included the malevolent as well as the cooperative.

Here is the full text of the interview in case the link goes bad:

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Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
Topic #166, 83 responses, 0 new, Last post on Mon 25 Nov 2002 at 08:09 AM

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#0 of 82: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 21 Nov 2002 (07:24 AM)

Howard Rheingold was an early Internet adopter who understood quickly how
computing and 'net-based communication could enhance human capabilities. This
fed into an interest in human potential that led Howard to create or
co-create such works as _Higher Creativity_ (1984), _The Cognitive
Connections_ (1986), and _Excursions to the Far Side of the Mind: A Book of
Memes_ (1988). Howard became involved in the WELL in 1985, and this led to
his authorship of _The Virtual Community_, a book about his life online and
the potential for community in cyberspace. Howard was editor of Whole Earth
Review for several years, and of the Millennium Whole Earth Catalog, which
was published in 1994. Howard was the first Executive Editor at HotWired,
but left to build Electric Minds, which was more of an online community/jam
session than a magazine. Howard continues to explore the human impact of new
technologies in _Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution_, which explores the
impact of increasingly ubiquitous wireless communications devices on social
networks, and the evolution of moblike adhocracies that can be either
positive or destructive.

Bruce Umbaugh leads the discussion with Howard. Bruce is a philosopher who
teaches at Webster University's main campus in St. Louis (MO, USA) and via
the Net. His interests include computer ethics, epistemology, philosophy of
science, cognitive science.

Please join me in welcoming Bruce and Howard to inkwell.vue!

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#1 of 82: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 21 Nov 2002 (07:44 AM)

Thanks, Jon.

Howard, I've really enjoyed your book. The ideas you're pursuing are as
interesting and engaging as anything I've come across in awhile. So, it's
exciting to have the chance to talk with you here about all this.

I think one of the first things likely to occur to anyone bumping into
*Smart Mobs* is that the title itself is a bit jarring. We usually think of
"mobs" as dumb (and in part for that reason dangerous). We often think of
only individuals as "smart." So a place to start is asking you what smart
mobs are.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#2 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 2002 (12:01 PM)

The briefest definition is that a smart mob is group of people who use
mobile communications, PCs, and the Internet to organize collective
action. That doesn't mean a whole lot without unpacking it. Maybe it will
help for me to briefly describe the clues that led me to suspect that we
are at the beginning of an important social-technological revolution.

In Tokyo, in early 2000, I couldn't help noticing that so many people were
looking at their telephones rather than listening to them -- and many were
using their thumbs to send text messages to one another. Interesting --
but there are many interesting sights in Tokyo. I recalled this unusual
sight (unusual for American eyes -- elsewhere in the world, around 100
billion text messages are transmitted every month) -- when I found myself
in Helsinki a few months after my Tokyo experience. I was sitting at an
outdoor cafe, drinking a cup of coffee, when three Finnish teenagers
encountered two older adults -- maybe the parents of one of them -- right
next to where I was sitting. I had no idea what they were saying -- they
were speaking Finnish -- but I noted that one of the teenagers glanced at
his mobile phone (all Finns carry their telephones in their hands and
glance at them from time to time) and smiled. Then he showed the telephone
display screen to the other two teenagers, who also smiled -- but he did
not show it to the other, older, adults. And all five of them continued
conversing as if this was normal.

I started asking around, and both my Japanese and Finnish friends told me
that many young adults "flocked" -- showed up at the same mall or
fast-food joint at the same time from eight different directions --
because they had coordinated and negotiated through flurries of text

Again, this was curious, but not world-shaking. I started doing some more
serious research when I read reports about the "People Power II"
demonstrations in Manila. The Estrada government was accused of
corruption, and everyone in the Philippines was glued to their TV set for
a time, like Americans during the Watergate hearings, as the Philippine
Congress investigated Estrada. When Senators linked to Estrada abruptly
shut down the hearings, tens of thousands of Philippine citizens started
gathering in EDSA -- the same square where the anti-Marcos demonstrations
had taken place. But they showed up within minutes -- almost all of them
wearing black. In hours, millions showed up. It was all summoned and
coordinated by text messages. Telephone trees are old organizing tactics,
but cumbersome compared to texting. Once you get a text message, y ou can
forward it to everyone in your address book.

I realized that the flocking teenagers and the demonstrating Filipinos
were taking advantage of a recently-lowered threshold for collective
action. And when I looked into collective action, I realized that much
more could be in store. It was when I understood that the mobile
telephones so many people carry are becoming miniature computers and
Internet terminals that I began to realize that we are on the verge of the
third great wave of change, following and building upon -- and going far
beyond -- the PC and Internet waves.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#3 of 82: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 21 Nov 2002 (01:28 PM)

So these "mobs" depend on particular technolgies in order to exist as
mobs. (And to be "smart" as well? Or is the smart part human, rather
than technological?) And they differ from what preceded them relying on
the Internet and PCs in being mobile (and relatively ubiquitous).

Anything else that's distinctive about the tech?

And why is this revolutionary, rather than just more of the same?

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#4 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 2002 (01:47 PM)

Let's talk about the big picture for the moment: communication
technologies, social contracts, and collective action.

For a LONG time, humans hunted small game and gathered roots and berries
in small family groups. At some point, not all that long ago in our
evolutionary history, those family groups began to cooperate with others
who weren't directly related to them, organizing big-game hunts -- a form
of collective action that brought in more meat than any one family could
eat before it spoiled, thus creating the first public goods. Whenever a
means of communication, a social contract that enables people to trust one
another on a new scale, and collective action produce new public goods,
human society becomes more complex: agriculture, alphabets, printing
presses, etc. The printing press broke out the secret code of the
alphabet, which had been invented by the accountants for the first great
empires and had been reserved for the ruling elite for millennia. Within a
couple centuries of the emergence of literate populations, the collective
enterprises of self-governance and science emerged.

The Internet enables people to connect with strangers in other parts of
the world, getting together around shared affinities -- the whole virtual
community story. Ebay adds a reputation system, and a new market emerges.
Peer to peer methodologies enabled 70 million people to share their hard
disk space via Napster, and 2 million people to amass 20 trillion floating
point operations per second of CPU power to search for messages from outer

What will happen when billions of people carry devices that are thousands
of times more powerful than today's PCs, linked at speeds thousands of
times faster than today's broadband connections, perhaps with distributed
reputation systems that enable us to find people with whom we have some
common cause -- on the fly, in the real world? That's the essential
question of smart mobs. The flocking teenagers, the Philippine
demonstrators, the Napster and SETI@home and eBay crowds -- they are only
the first outbreaks. After all, the PC I used when I first joined the Well
in 1985 had 640K RAM and communicated at 1200 baud. Now, fifteen years
later, I can access the Well from a handheld device (I use a Treo 300)
that is a thousand times more powerful, and a fifth the price. And the
speed is probably a thousand times faster.

This is not to say that smart mobs are wise mobs. Not all groups who use
new technologies to organize collective action have socially beneficial
ends in mind. Criminals, totalitarian governments, spammers, will all be
able to take advantage of new capabilities -- just as the first to take
advantage of tribes, nation-states, markets, networks included the
malevolent as well as the cooperative.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#5 of 82: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 21 Nov 2002 (02:33 PM)

One aspect of the historical arc you're describing, Howard, is the
diminishing importance of geography or physical proximity in organizing
human affairs (or collective action, at any rate). Once upon a time,
our mates were limited to our mates (and offspring and forebears).
Spoken language made coordination and a host of personal relationships
feasible with others near enough to speak with. As communications
technologies developed, larger groups could work together across

Two important constraints were (1) a time lag that limited the pace of
activity and (2) central control over the technology (early on a
matter of limiting literacy, later owning the press or antenna) that
could try to limit who communicated and what.

PCs and the Net have made a serious dent in the second (setting aside
digital divide issues for the moment, but knowing we'll get back to
them): everyone's a publisher now. (I remember you made the point
forcefully in *The Virtual Community* that it was important to preserve
the ability to communicate "upstream" on the Net for that value to

PCs and the Net have surely altered the first radically, as well,
checked to a degree by the need to be at a jack in the wall to be

But the new technologies you're describing are faster and nimbler. And
they travel with us. So they allow coordination with arbitrary people
wherever they are (without even having to meet them). They allow
coordinating right past other people who are physically near (as in
your Finnish teens example).

That change of pace and transformation of geography (replaced, I
guess, by various network topographies and other relationships?) does
seem profound. It would be surprising if our existing social norms and
habits regarding privacy, trust, and so on, proved to be easily applied
right out of the gate for dealing with this new arena.

If these technologies stand to empower some people (or The People),
that must threaten some other people. That was obviously true about
literacy and printing, and almost everyone reading Inkwell will be
familiar with the last decade of political wars over the Internet.

Are we on the brink of the greatest power struggle since the discovery
of fire?

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#6 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 2002 (02:35 PM)

One other element regarding my contention that we are at the beginning of
a revolutionary wave of change: Mobile telephones, which are quickly
morphing into portable Internet terminals with significant and growing
onboard computation power, are used by people who have not had access to
PCs and the Net, and are used in parts of our lives that computation on
online communication have not reached.

One in eight people in Botswana have mobile telephones.
Six weeks ago, in Sao Paolo, I saw barefoot people in the slums talking on
their mobile telephones.
Somali traders of the coast of Dubai make deals via telephoneIn rural
Bangladesh, the mobile telephone has been introduced via payshops run by
local women -- and the shops have become new social centers.

The PC (except for laptops) and the Internet have been confined to
desktops. Now we carry computation and online communication into the
streets, automobiles, trains -- places where computing and instant global
communications were not available before.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#7 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 2002 (02:45 PM)

(Bruce slipped while I was adding that last post)

Part of Smart Mobs examines the relationship between knowledge,
communication and power -- most famously pioneered by Foucault -- and the
power struggles that cut through the many technological and sociological
issues raised by smart mobs. Central power versus decentralized power is
an ongoing arms raised. The Internet is now the site of control struggles:
Cable companies are merging, resisting wireless rebroadcast of bandwidth,
petitioning for the right to discriminate against content from competing
providers. Control over the root domain servers could grant what had
previously been considered technically impossible -- control of the Net.
The Hollings bill, the DMCA, trusted computing initiatives purport to be
about intellectual property, but they are most centrally about control of
innovation -- will a 19 year old dropout be able to shape the new medium
and become the richest person in the world, will a Swiss physicist be able
to reconfigure the entire network because he gives away an idea, or will
the innovators of tomorrow have to be employees of Sony, Disney, or
AOL-Time-Warner? The anti-WTO protestors in Seattle won that battle in
part through the use of smart mob technologies; not too long after, the G8
summit was held in a remote part of Canada, and wireless communications
were blocked locally. Will top-down schemes like 3G bring wireless
broadband to the masses, or will it grow fromt he ground up via Wi-Fi
networks? Will the FCC continue to favor today's telcos and broadcasters
and regulate spectrum according to the technological regimes of the 1920s,
or will Wi-Fi, cognitive radio, ultra-wideband technologies force a
radical restructuring of the way spectrum is regulated? There are power
struggles between political power holders and the disenfranchised, between
existing business models and disruptive innovations, between content
aggregators are consumers. It wouldn't be wise to be too optimistic.
Unless citizens gain a great deal more knowledge, and wield a great deal
more influence than we wield today, it doesn't take a prophet to predict
that the powers that be will win these battles. I wrote this book not
because I believed that disseminating knowledge of these struggles will
guarantee a victory for liberty and for tomorrow's entrepreneurs and new
technologies, but because I am convinced that without widespread knowledge
of the stakes and the players, entrenched interests will certainly win.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#8 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 2002 (02:46 PM)

(I meant "arms race" instead of "arms raised" -- interesting Freudian

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#9 of 82: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 21 Nov 2002 (02:59 PM)

Well, that's a great image, anyway.
. .
/ \

Can you say a little more about one of the examples in there? Maybe
one of the more hopeful scenarios for now--cognitive radio or WiFi
networks? What are they, how do they stand to help the causes of
liberty and entrepreneurship?

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#10 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 2002 (03:13 PM)

Our crusty old Wellite, Dave, is in the thick of the battle over spectrum

Disclaimer: I think I do a pretty good job at perceiving broad patterns,
but I make no claim to technical expertise. Perhaps a less polite way of
describing me would be "ten miles wide and a quarter of an inch deep."

The FCC was set up to regulate the spectrum on behalf of its owners -- the
citizens. It happened in the wake of the Titanic disaster, where
"interference" was an issue. Radio waves don't physically interfere with
each other -- they pass through each other. But the radios of the 1920s
were "dumb" insofar as they lacked the ability to discriminate between
signals from nearby broadcasters on the same frequencies. So the regime we
now know emerged -- broadcasters are licensed to broadcast in a particular
geographic area in a particular frequency band. For the most part,
licenses to chunks of spectrum are auctioned, and the winner of the
auction "owns" that piece of spectrum. We have seen in recent years that
the owners of broadcast licenses have amassed considerable wealth, and
that those owners have consolidated ownership in a smaller and smaller
number of more and more wealthy entities. And of course, political power
goes along with that wealth. These aren't widget-manufacturing industries.
These are enterprises that influence what people perceive and believe to
be happening in the world.

Recently, different new radio technologies have emerged. Cognitive radios
are "smarter" in that they have the capability to discriminate among
competing broadcasters. Software-defined radio makes it possible for
devices to choose the frequency and modulation scheme that is most
efficient for the circumstances. Ultra-wideband radio doesn't use one
slice of spectrum, but sends out ultra-short pulses over all frequencies.
It is possible now to think of "intelligent" broadcast and reception
devices that use the spectrum in a way similar to the way routers use the
Internet: devices can listen, and if a chunk of spectrum isn't being used
by another device for an interval (millionths or billionths of seconds),
the device can broadcast on that frequency; reception devices are smart
enough to hop around and put the digital broadcasts together, roughly
similar to the way packets assemble themselves as they find their way
through the Internet. Again, let me caution that there are probably many
people who read this who can point out gross technical generalizations and
slight inaccuracies in this description. The point, however, is that
spectrum no longer has to be regulated the way it used to be. Politically,
however, those interests that benefitted from the traditional regime have
the ear and pocketbooks of rulemakers, whether they are regulators or
legislators. Yochai Benkler at Yale has proposed an "open spectrum"
regime, and Lawrence Lessig has discussed a mixed regime, in which parts
of the spectrum continue to be owned and sold the way they have been, but
other parts are opened to be treated as a commons.

Now the notion of a commons extends beyond spectrum. Indeed, part of Smart
Mobs is about the way biologists, sociologists, economists,
mathematicians, political scientists have begun to converge on issues of
collective action, problems of commons, the evolution and maintenance of

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#11 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 2002 (03:37 PM)

As for Wi-Fi, as I note in the book, there are some problems with scaling
-- "interference" problems among them. But the interesting part is that
you can put a $100 box on your cable modem or DSL line and broadcast
broadband Internet access in a sphere of a couple hundred feet to a couple
hundred yards. If you use inexpensive directional antennae (most
notoriously constructed from Pringles cans), it is possible to extend that
range to several miles. Anyone with a $100 (and dropping) card in their
laptop can tap into that bandwidth. You can go to Bryant Park or
Washington Square Park or a dozen other locations in New York City and
similar "hotspots" in other cities around the world and tap into WiFi
access points that have been deliberately or inadvertently left open.

The community wireless movement combines the many to many publishing
capabilities of the web with Wi-Fi: put up an access point, send someone
an email, and it appears on a website map. Some parties, notably certain
cable providers, don't like that at all. To them, it is theft, and breach
of contract. NYC Wireless legallyprovides bandwidth in public places in
NYC because they can find upstream ISPs that are happy to give them a
contract that permits bandwidth sharing.

An economic case can be made that WiFi access could be provided
cost-effectively as a municipal utility. It's certainly useful, and
definitely orders of magnitude less expensive to provide than water or
power or sewage. Dave Hughes has been selling the Welsh parliament on a
scheme to blanket the entire country with WiFi access.

If you would like to attract young, entrepreneurial, culturally
interesting people to your part of a city, one way to do it would be to
put up WiFi hotspots, and they will begin congregating. This is a larger
issue -- cellphones and wireless Net access are changing the way people
use cities. I get into this at slightly greater length in the book.

Some will argue that there are flaws and inefficiencies to WiFi, and so
far, it operates in only a small slice of spectrum allowed for unlicensed
operation. But as Larry Lessig says, the 1200 baud modem wasn't an
efficient means of accessing the Internet, but it was a catalyst and a
bridge to applications and innovations that helped create the broadband
Web as we know it.

So far, for the most part, WiFi has been a grassroots phenomenon driven by
amateurs and enthusiasts. However, telcos in Japan and Korea are getting
into it in a big way, as a supplement to or substitute for more costly 3G
infrastructure. And here in the US, ATT and Intel are teaming up to
provide tens of thusands of hotspots. Interestingly, Larry Brilliant,
cofounder of the Well, is deeply involved in that.

All I can say is that my world changed when I could sit and write barefoot
in my backyard (as I have been doing since the first PowerBook) and not
have to trot into the house for Net access.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#12 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Thu 21 Nov 2002 (04:09 PM)

Here's an interesting back-of-the-envelope speculation.

Some people think the PC took off in the marketplace when the price
dropped down to around the average monthly salary of the American middle
class consumer -- around $2000/month.

The average monthly income of the world is around $40.

Moore'slaw is going to drive the price of today's handheld PC -- itself
around 1000 times more powerful than the first PCs of 20 years ago -- to
around $40 in about 6-7 years. And that included broadband wireless

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#13 of 82: Dave Hughes (dave) Thu 21 Nov 2002 (10:27 PM)

bumbagh says in 3 "...why is this revolutionary, rather than just more
of the same.'

Forget the digital technology. Start with the human communicative
technology that has been with us for millions of years. The voice,
produced in the throat, is technology. Hearing, through ear-drums
is technolgy.

With those two only, humans could 'communicate' going from grunts
to words. But only within limited ranges - a few dozen feet, except
for shouts. So human 'groups' stood, sat, lay in close proximity
to each other, and organized themselves.

Sight is technology. And real time. And while one can 'see' far,
one must be pretty close to 'see' detail. And signalling came
out of that. From hand waving to semaphore flags or smoke signals.

All technology beyond what animals did except in the most primitive

Then drawings were made on cave walls. Pictures. Followed by symbols.
Fixed on walls or rocks.

So while groups of people moved (while hunting, for example) they
took, thanks to the technology of memory, images, sounds, ideas
to other groups.

But it wasn't until symbols - early languages - were put on either
practical pots, or carryable tablets - that ideas could move
between groups, independent of who was carrying them.

So cultures arose, limited and circumscribed by natural boundaries
of course, but kept alive and evolving because of human forms
of 'communications.'

Then came light paper, writing surfaces, making carrying easier. And
scribes painfully duplicating the important ones in small numbers.

Then of course, the printing press. Lots of copies, widely

All 'technology.'

And then voice over a wire - a telephone. Two way, interactive, but
perishable. Then came teletype - printed words over wires. Opening
when coupled with mass printing, whose new ways people 'related'
to each other in local groups, neighborhoods, towns, cultures,

Then came radio and television. Essentially ONE WAY broadcast
'communications.' From the center out. The edges being passive
consumers of what communications brought.

Then came personal computers, permitting individuals to write
and locally publish. Followed by modems.

But THEN the erstwhile 'consumer' could become (1) a producer
(2) organize with others at a great distance, (3) become part
of 'other' than their primary, and/or local 'group.' Even
many groups. And with the speed, low cost and ease of being,
even only for a few minutes, part of a scattered 'group' which
does not recquire 'real time', but 'asynchronous' dialogue, with
this 166 is, individuals could become intimate parts of large
numbers of groups. Groups which cut across local physical lines,
town lines, state/regional lines, national lines - and someday
galactic lines.

BUT, almost ALL communciations by modem, PC, to/from others was
a commercial activity. Telephone and ISP 'services.'

Then came the kind of unlicensed, spread spectrum, secure,
digital, wireless, communications in which the only key
cost was the price of ones wireless device - radio - attached
to a pc, a laptop, a mobile pda.

i.e. between two points, which can be 1, 10, 50, 75 miles apart
from each other, the 'communications' AND in voice, sound,
written, image, or running video form, as cheaply as when
the first humans 'talked' to each other!

And linking these local 'last mile free' links capable of - soon
now - communicating what is in one mind to that of another
with bandwidth as wide as the human brain can function with
communciating with another, THAT I propose is Revolutionary.

Mind to Mind communications. Limited NOT by the speed, cost,
or bandwidth of the devices - wired, wireless, processor -
but by the natural limitations of the mind to concentrate
on the act of communications with another mind.

So THEN groups will begin to function very differently.

My goal, as Howard may recall, 23 years ago, was, and still is,
to connect up all 6 billion minds on this planet to each other.
We have the technology, can afford the scale.

Will that be good? How the hell would I know. It would be,
in human organizational terms, DIFFERENT, from all that went

I think its an experiment worth trying.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#14 of 82: Dave Hughes (dave) Thu 21 Nov 2002 (11:26 PM)

Howard, in #11 above, notes "Dave Hughes has been selling the Welsh
parliament on a scheme to blanket the entire county with WiFi access"

Not exactly. I started by showing Welsh people in local Pubs how
they could connect up themselves broadband to the Internet,
wirelessly, from every farmhouse. The word spread - from the bottom
up. Welsh BBC (SC4) came to film me in Colorado. The word spread
further. Always built on the boast I made in a tiny pub on New Years
Eve 1997 in a tiny pub, in a tiny village (Cymduad) one pub, one
chapel, one inn that 'I could connect up every farmhouse in Wales
to the Internet, broadband, bypassing hated British Telecom, cheaply,
by turning every Welsh pub into a wireless ISP.'

After the Welsh National Assembly (their parliament) heard British
Telecom tell the English Parliment, that unless the government
subsidized them with millions of pounds, there was no way theu
could bring broadband to rural England (including Wales, of course)
until 2022. So the Welsh National Assembly, in effect said "To hell
with that. Where is that crazy American"

So they paid for me to come over there, make 12 presentations in 5
days, with dinners, before government, geeks, university aundiences,
civic leaders, south to north. And do a 'model' valley wirelessly.

And the PEOPLE demanded that the Assembly get them wireless. I only
had to convince the 2d Minister one on one that I knew what I was
talking about - technologically, economically, regulatorily (British
and European Union Radiocomms) - AND CULTURALLY, before he popped
for 100 million pounds for Broadband for Wales, with a big component
of linked satellite-wireless, and a few bones thrown to BT for ADSL.

I guess I organized a smart mob. I intentionally worked from the
bottom up, not top down. And I drew on all my limited, but historical,
knowledge of Welsh culture, derived from my desultory survery of
its history through the 600 years I can trace my ancestory, (as much,
since 1996 via the newsgroup as any other way.

So I said 'You Welsh like your 'communities.' And you like to do things
by 'councils.' So what is the old Welsh word for 'community?' F-r-o
fro. And how many communities are there with a radius of no more than
3 miles (a nice wireless distance). 600, they calculated.

'Good, I said. We shall have e-Fro's. 600 e-fros, each one organized
into a non-profit e-fro Council, which shall own the server, the
base radio, and be legally responsible for the upstream link. And
the SERVER at the center of each community, shall reflect the unique
culture (in Welsh and English or whatever) of THAT one e-fro community.

And you can then relate to each other, wirelessly, across the community
go out to the Internet, and grow on your server what you want the
rest of the world to see and know a about you. And sell or give to
the world what you have, or are. Your music, your stories, your
bardic traditions, your writings, your history, your castles, your
sheep, your nurse's shawls, and slate wall hangings. And your
Welsh language.

Well, it appears to have hit a deep nerve midst the Welsh people.
For I started with their culture, their being, and only used wireless
and technology to express it, to make it valuable to others.

Although I must admit here, that even though I am 4th generation
American, from 13 generations of Welsh on my grandfathers side (Dafydd
ap Hugh, 1585), and about 17 generations on my grandmothers side
(Owen Tudor, 1485) I share with them the feeling of being oppressed
by the haughty English. So with malice aforthought am seeing whether
'Electronic Wales' can become independent of England. So smart
mobbery may turn out to be a bit more than that in the long run.

(You can see the e-fro formal program at, text, stills,
and videos on a couple of my speeches.)

So, Howard, a slight course correction to my electronic activism in
Wales. I am only doing what the Welsh people say they want to do -
get connected, become prosperous, retain their culture.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#15 of 82: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (08:09 AM)

Dave, thanks for joining us! Great recap of the history of technology.

Dewayne Hendricks gave a talk at Computers, Freedom, and Privacy,
called, "Are the Tools the Rules? The Future of the Digital Commons,"
on wireless spread spectrum and cognitive radios. We talked about it in
inkwell.vue topic 146, "On the Scene: CFP 2002"

One thing that's gone on, putting together Howard's post and Dave's
second one, is that governments have treated spectrum as a scarce
resource. But it doesn't have to be, right? Or not so scarce, at any
rate. Which means that the current situation of consolidation of power
over telecommunications in the hands of the few is historical artifact
rather than law of nature.

We're envisioning truly democratic -- even populist -- telecom policy

But that threatens entrenched Powers That Be. And as a commons brings
with it a lot of problems about coordination and collective action. To
unbelievably mind-boggling extent if we're looking at this as a truly
global phenomenon by the end of the decade.

So, I find myself looking for examples that might show how we
coordinate activities using these means.

How, for example, are rules set for the Welsh e-Fro councils and how
are the councils coordinated? Do they translate cross-culturally?

How does a social network like eBay or Slashdot (or the Well)
facilitate cooperation and distributed collective action? What can
other networks learn from them?

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#16 of 82: Dave Hughes (dave) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (08:39 AM)

I have to be gone most of the day, so won't check back here until

I suppose, in sum, I have always tried to fit Technolgy to Cultures,
and not Cultures to Technology.

Knowing full well that the spread of technologies, such as grass roots,
powerful, but affordable wireless communications devices, will itself
'change' over time, cultures. Whether for good or ill remains to be
seen. One of my sons reminds me of the Tower of Babble. Another of
the Time Sinks. Another of the Coursening of Discourse, online -
the flaming, the vulgarity.

And sometimes I wonder whether I *really* want to know what's in
other's minds. Often a very ugly scene. That perhaps I, like lots
of people, would prefer the 'myths' of others 'communicated' by
their carefully groomed dress, speech, appearance, manners. The
historical way humans have evaluated each other.

And there is another, recent, phenomonon. Noted by Alvin Toffler
in Future Shock a good 30 years ago. Accelerating change. Which
technology merely speeds up. And creates even more seperation
even within age groupings from otherwise cohesive local communities.

Which permits individuals to 'live' physically, on one place, and
interrelate on a face to face basis with others locally, while
'living' in their minds, thanks to interactive telecom, with one
or more physically distant, and even totally scattered, 'groups.'

Is that an absolute good? Or does the human psyche 'need' the
reinforcing attributes of 'place?'

I have been online a long time. 22 years at least, every day to
one extent or another. I have read (give or take 10%) over
500 million words online. And written nearly 30 million words
online (a reporter having trouble understanding me, once helped
me work out the numbers). I've been in many 'virtual gatherings'
all over the world.

But I also spent 10 years bringing a run down old Victorian brick
neighborhood back from the dead, and my very high tech offices
with all my advanced wireless devices, is in a brick building
in my small-scale (3 blocks long) Old Colorado City neighborhood.
Which has fostered, as I thought it would, a 'high tech, high touch'
place, which balms my soul while my mind has to starwars itself
across cold space with ultra-modern design (ergonomically) tools.

And my small company, which is in one of those buildings, and has
been for 18 years - same leased space - is a virtual company.
Nobody is IN the office daily, even though I live only 2 short
blocks from it. Our staff is scattered from Dallas to Richmond.

So I am not one to embrace, willy nilly, the Great Promises
of ubiquitous, global, low cost or even free, wireless aided
connectivity. Without putting it all in the context of human
culture and psychic needs - which have not been erased by
technological tools. Evolutionarily, eventually? Maybe. But
802.11b - 11mbps to 802.11a - 56mbps took less time than it
took my fingernails to grow to where I needed to clip them.

And every smart mob may be light years from the next one,
in terms of personal, group, human, social, ethical, legal,
political, values.

Gotta stop now and walk to my office. A rare thing, as I work
best right here at T-1 speed TO and THROUGH my office,
wirelessly, 902-928mhz (not 802.11b, which wouldn't punch
through the trees and brick building between my home and my

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#17 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (09:40 AM)

Economists have told me that eBay is a market that shouldn't exist because
the buyers and sellers, separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, who
have never met and may never meet and might never engage in another
transaction, each take the risk that the first mover will get stiffed --
the person who sends the check won't get the merchandise (or it will prove
to be less valuable than the seller claimed, or in worse condition) or the
person who sends the goods won't get paid. A classic Prisoner's Dilemma,
and an example of a collective action dilemma (rational self interest can
lead to collective disaster). A very simple reputation system on eBay
enables a multibillion dollar market to exist where none had -- or could
-- exist before. There are ways to game eBay's reputation system, and ways
to guard against gaming -- another classic arms race.

Slashdot's moderation and metamoderation system is another reputation
system that attempts to solve a problem inherent in online discourse --
vandals, trolls, and idiots can drive down the signal to noise ratio,
discourage people who have something valuable to say, and diminish the
value of the forum. Without compromising the freedom of any moron with a
modem to spew, Slashdot makes it possible to filter out the noise. Again,
the system is far from perfect, and while it makes it possible to tune out
the noise, it doesn't necessarily raise the level of the discourse, it
does balance freedom of speech versus the limited attention of
discriminating readers.

Will reputation systems evolve? Can they be applied to mobile, peer to
peer communications and transaction systems? I devote a chapter to the

BTW, there are a lot of resources at -- I've
posted the bibliography, searchable by keyword and by chapter, and blogged
references are archived by category. If you are interested in the state of
reputation systems, you can start with the references there.

Wellite Fen LaBalme has been working for years to develop open-source
reputation systems: Enchancing the Internet with Reputations, for example:

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#18 of 82: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (10:25 AM)

The focus on reputation systems is really important. One of the things that
Axelrod's work showed was that iterative games are significantly different
from one-off games. Various ugly strategies might be successful in single-
round games but fail terribly when the game is repeated.

eBay, /., and the Well take various approaches to making participants
identifiable from one encounter to the next, but most transactions at ebay,
say, don't depend on any ongoing relationship between the parties.
Reputation systems kind of consolidate series of transactions between
disparate parties into a metric that does the work of iteration in Axelrod's
games. So, even if I don't expect to do a deal with you again, I still have
to deal with the consequences of doing you wrong.

The eBay and Slashdot reputation systems are both top down -- they're
features of the code developed centrally. Are there bottom-up reputation
systems we should pay attention to? How are they different?

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#19 of 82: Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (10:26 AM)

just an etymological aside: isn't the word mob itself derived from
"mobile" or its Latin cognate, denoting a moving crowd of people?

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#20 of 82: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (10:31 AM)

Howdy, ! welcome to the party.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#21 of 82: Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (10:41 AM)

happy to be here! i think i have my own inkwell thingy starting today
but i don't see it yet, and this is as copasetic a place to hang out on
the Well right now as i can imagine.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#22 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (12:10 PM)

I didn't know that, Christian! I appreciate the opportunity to learn.

Some interesting preliminary work has been done on distributed reputation
systems by a group at the University of Oregon in Eugene: Disseminating
Trust Information in Wearable Communities

and there's more in the way of bibliographic citations at:

This whole issue is a critical uncertainty: Moore's Law, Metcalfe's Law,
and Reed's Law give me confidence that we will see very large numbers of
computationally powerful, mobile, wirelessly-linked devices over the next
ten years. It is less clear to me that reputation systems will evolve to
become a useful kind of "glue" that will enable the people who carry and
use these devices to assemble carpools, marketplaces, and other social
networks. Even though it's early, and the sources I've cited indicate that
economists and computer scientists are actively studying online reputation
systems, I see at least one problem: It's easier to get a bad rep --
fairly or unfairly -- than to redeem that bad reputation. Ask anyone whose
credit rating has been dinged through identity theft or error. And where
is the possibility of redemption -- a formerly bad actor reforms? Clearly,
these questions must involve both social and technical disciplines.

I've tried to make the book and blog a good resource for others in
different disciplines who are interested in pursuing these questions, and
who need to be aware of what others are doing. Smart mob theory, but its
nature, must be interdisciplinary.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#23 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (12:16 PM)

Another important aspect of reputation systems is that truly useful and
widescale systems are going to have to use some kind of implicit metric:
only geeks tweak preferences. However, as Marc Smith has shown with
Netscan , it is possible to do a
lot with implicit measures. As Smith says: "Don't watch what people say --
watch what they do."

For example, Boeing has close to 80,000 employees in the Seattle area.
They pay the city a lot of money (as does Microsoft) for the wear and tear
on transportation systems that this headcount represents: there is an
incentive for ridesharing. A simple reputation system might make it
possible with technology that exists today (mobile, location-aware
devices) to say to your telephone: "I am leaving my house right now and
driving to my office. Who along my exact route is looking for a ride right
now -- and has a reputation for being trustworthy and reasonably
interesting to ride with?" A simple example: People whose riders tend to
ride with them once and once only are probably less valuable than people
whose riders repeat; conversely, riders who are offered repeat rides by
one or more drivers are probably more valuable than those who tend to ride
once with one or more drivers. This is a simple example of a simple
application that might make a big difference.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#24 of 82: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (12:22 PM)

You give a good example of a watch-what-people-do substitute for a
metric in 's approach to finding the auction items he wants.
I enjoyed that one.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#25 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (12:35 PM)

Interviewing Cory, and subsequently becoming addicted to bOINGbOING, was
one of the high points of the research phase. Wellites and
are definitely colorful characters, if not heroes, of the book.

Cory is epigrammatic in a way that book authors love: His description of
Napster's solution to the collective action dilemma is classic: "Sheep
that shit grass." The architecture of Napster, he pointed out, makes it
easy for people to provision the same resource they consume: While you are
searching other people's MP3 directories for music to plunder, the music
you have plundered is, by default, exposed to all the other Napster users
who are looking for music to plunder. This situation has been called by
Dan Bricklin (co-inventor of VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet),
"the cornucopia of the commons."

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#26 of 82: Life in the big (doctorow) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (12:37 PM)

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#27 of 82: Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (12:51 PM)

cory for president! (jerod pore for veep?)

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#28 of 82: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (01:12 PM)

If Cory was president, we wouldn't *need* veep. We'd have a prez who could be
in all places at once!

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#29 of 82: Martha Soukup (soukup) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (01:30 PM)

You're going to have to amend the Constitution to account for his age and

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#30 of 82: "Et toi" is French, and so you're a crack muffin. (madman) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (02:32 PM)

No, we'd just need to assimilate Canada.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#31 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (02:53 PM)

The Well: Land O Drift

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#32 of 82: Gail Williams (gail) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (03:14 PM)

This mob is too smart for itself!

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#33 of 82: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (03:33 PM)

Howard (or Cory or Dave or Gail or any of the rest of you), what
brings about thos cornucopia architectures, as opposed to ones that let
The Big Guy dole things out under conditions of artificial scarcity?
Obviously, part of this is political and part is technical, but how do
we encourage political processes and technological developments that
favor the one rather than 'tother?

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#34 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (03:51 PM)

That's a big question and maybe beyond me, but Phred recently turned me
onto a paper by Yochai Benkler, about the economics of open source, in
which he talked about situations in which peer-organized production
systems are more efficient than hierarchically-organized production
systems. Phred also gave me a book, "Ruling The Root," which I've just
started, which seems to get into the relative advantages of markets,
hierarchies, and networks. Perhaps it might be best to inquire about what
the right questions are before leaping at answers. I'll offer a couple,
and encourage others to offer others -- or provide answers, if you have

1. What are the conditions necessary to provision a resource? For
example, copyright was originally intended to provide a temporary monopoly
on the profit from an invention or work of art -- as an incentive to

2. What are the conditions necessary to prevent consumption from
depleting a resource?

3. What are the most effective conditions for producing a good?

There is a whole economy and ecology of public goods. I only dipped into
it. I'm continuing to read about these issues.

In regard to spectrum, it looks as if, in regard to question #3, that
treating more of the spectrum as a commons, and regulating broadcast
devices so they play nice with each other, could create efficiencies that
would lead to a multiplication of broadcasters. This seems an obvious
advantage. Why create an artificial scarcity of a resource that can lead
to innovation, education, and discourse?

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#35 of 82: excessively heterosexual (saiyuk) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (11:30 PM)

billy dee williams: land o calrissian.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#36 of 82: William H. Dailey (whdailey) Fri 22 Nov 2002 (11:43 PM)

Mr. Rheingold might be interested in the technology presented at:

It offers the possibility of instant communication for one thing. A
starship could communicate in real time.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#37 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (08:59 AM)

A smart mob is not necessarily a wise mob: The role of texting in the
Nigerian riots:

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#38 of 82: a man, a plan, and a parking ticket (clm) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (09:11 AM)

Yep. Timely example.

I'm interested in the trade-off between privacy and cooperation
that you mention in the book.

What is your current thinking about how the relationship between
these two might change as smart mob technologies evolve?

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#39 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (09:48 AM)

Of course, many other forces -- like the zeal of US law enforcement and
intelligence agencies to prevent terrorism by tracking every breath of
every citizen -- are arrayed against privacy. And citizens who would like
legislators to offer minimal privacy protections -- for example, to
require financial institutions to offer opt-in instead of opt-out plans
for sharing intimate details of what we buy and when and where -- seem to
be outgunned by lobbyists. At least that has been the case in California.

Technological development on many fronts seems to be mounting an
unstoppable threat to what we now know as privacy. If you live in a major
urban center and get out much, your face is captured by 200 cameras on an
average day. Software for matching your face against databases of suspects
or dissidents is in its early stages, but who can doubt that it will
improve? The movie "Enemy of the State" seems already possible on both the
technical and political levels.

Maybe Scott Mcnealy was right: "Privacy? We have no privacy. Get over it."

I'm not optimistic about this aspect.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#40 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (09:50 AM)

There's encryption. Citizens do have a (still, for the time being) legal
technical means of protecting the privacy of communications. But
collective action is required. If a few individuals use encryption, we
identify ourselves as potential suspects. We need millions to use
encryption. Are these going to be the same people who can't figure out how
to change the clock display on our VCRs?

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#41 of 82: a man, a plan, and a parking ticket (clm) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (10:44 AM)

I was just at a conference where, during a session on privacy,
someone in the audience suggested that there were over 70,000
cases of identity theft in the US last year. That seems like a
big number. (So maybe it wasn't really Scott who said that!)

I wonder if a serious loss of privacy might eventually generate
a counter force that might cause the pendulum to swing back again.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#42 of 82: Chris (cooljazz) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (10:48 AM)

Hi Howard. I'm looking forward to reading the book. At the risk of a
bit of drift, you mentioned economists "...economists,
mathematicians, political scientists have begun to converge on issues
of collective action, problems of commons, the evolution and
maintenance of cooperation...." and "...Economists have told me that
eBay is a market that shouldn't exist ..."

Since this topic started (and having at one time studied Economics)
the conversation here has inspired me to do a bit of my own research.
The recent Nobel Prize was awarded to an economist/psychologist pair
who are at the forefront of (imho) a "Scientific Revolution" more
commonly called Behavioral and Experimental Economics. I think much in
this field must be germane to your observations and study of Smart

The field involves the study of some of the most cherished
assumptions of economics "homo economicus" that rational selfish
creature presumed to be the decision maker throughout economics. One
of the award statements was "..for having integrated insights from
psychological research into economic science, especially concerning
human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty..."

In a sense Behavioral Economics studies how individuals are making
decisions, (based on emotions and whatever else governs and motivates
individual) especially when the decisions aren't "rational". (And
there are actual experiments as well).

Issues that you mention above "ride sharing" <#24> and "public goods"
have been studied and desribed with the seemingly tongue in cheek
title of "Anomalies". Anomalies - means only that there is a
phenomenon which can't be accounted for by the "assumptions of

The experiments try to determine why people actually cooperate (when
the "rational behavior" would be to follow ones "self interest" or
"defect" from the public interest)

I assume its only a matter of time before the "natural experiment"
implied by the smart mobs use of commmunications devices is studied
more formally - if I find something sooon on that I'll let you know.
(I'm sure there's a dissertation on the topic waiting out there for
someone :) )

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#43 of 82: Life in the big (doctorow) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (12:05 PM)

166: "Privacy? We have no privacy. Get over it."

That's a tad techno-deterministic for me. If we live in a civil society, we
can make laws that govern how and where we may be surveilled.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#44 of 82: Gail Williams (gail) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (12:41 PM)

That touches on a deeper question for me. The word "mob" implies something
other than civil society. Is it possible to create technology that could
make civil society impossible? Do we collectively want civil society,
expecially when we are able to act without planning and reality-checking?

Over in the WELL's town square, the conference, an observant user
posted that he had heard a report on NPR that the Nigerian Miss World riots
were orchestrated by instant messages ordered by Islamic leaders.

I did a quick search on Google News and found a newer instance: The
newspaper that published the blasphemy is now threatened with a boycott
organized in part by text messages to mobile phones.

> Meanwhile, all attention is now focused on the outcome of today's Friday
> sermon by major Islamic scholars in Kano. Already, anti-ThisDay messages
> are being flashed through the GSM message network. Part of the messages
> sent by various unpublished numbers reads "boycott ThisDay. Don't buy,
> and don't advertise if you love Allah and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)."

This is not pure anarchic group think, but something which sounds more
like mob with a capital M, with powerful leadership.

I guess it's debatable whether it is an attempt to make society even more
civil, according to one set of values, but it is an eye-opener.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#45 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (01:10 PM)

Thanks, Chris. From what I understand of the Nobel-winning economist's
ideas, one key factor is that people tend to overestimate risk when making
decisions. In regard to cooperation, a couple of the factors that tend to
override cold rational decision-making are reputation (I cite some
interesting work on "costly signalling") and...well, actually, I think
reputation is the main one. In costly signalling, humans and other
creatures expend energy and take risks that are not rational if they can
signal that they are good candidates for trading partners or mates --

Cory, the problem in California, which I somewhat cynically extrapolate,
is that most polls indicate that people would like a law that simply
requires our banks to ask us to opt in before they tell thousands of their
sister institutions how much liquor, cholesterol, condoms, and Prozac we
buy. However, as you probably know, the California legislature has failed
three times to pass such a law. Civil society is diffuse and not
well-funded; lobbyists are concentrated on their special issues, and have
lots of what legislators want -- money to buy TV ads. I don't know the
solution in terms of politics. It seems that technical solutions might be
better, but as I said, the problem is getting a sufficient number of
people to be aware of the solutions, and to use them. Do you encrypt all
your communications and pass out your public key? I don't, because I had
some problems getting PGP to work with Mac and Eudora a few years ago --
problems that are probably a result of my technical deficiency. And
compared to most citizens, I'm an arch-geek.

Gail, the Nigerian mob is the one I pointed to on the Smartmobs blog this
morning, and I think I posted a link above. In the opening pages of the
book, I made it clear that technologies of cooperation can help criminals
and terrorists as well as others. Wasn't that true of the printing press
and the telephone?

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#46 of 82: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (01:47 PM)

Howard, is the Benkler essay you mentioned called "Coases Penguin, or, Linux
and the Nature of the Firm"? Just want to be sure I've got the right one.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#47 of 82: Marla Hammond (marlah) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (01:47 PM)

Hello all - catching up on the topic.

In some of these cases, I think we have to ask: Would this event have
happened even without the new technology that was involved?

The American Revolution was organized with Minute Men who relayed
messages as quickly as possible in the time they lived. "One if by land
. Two if by sea." was a powerful and fast low tech message delivery.
The social conditions of the times caused the people to find the most
effective way possible to communicate.

On the flip side, would the American Revolution have had a different
outcome if both sides could send instant text messages across the

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#48 of 82: Gail Williams (gail) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (02:30 PM)

I missed that pointer in <37> above, Howard.

I'm asking something rather different than "can't bad guys use this," I
think. It may be unanswerable, but I'm wondering if some delay and latency
in forming mass consensus is an advantage to societies. I know there is no
clear answer, but I tend to be pro-async and some of the things I like about
not having to be simultaneous in a small group may be true about larger
groups too. Perhaps time will tell.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#49 of 82: David Gans (tnf) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (02:37 PM)

Anyone reading this who isn't a WELL member can contribute a question or com-
ment by sending email to

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#50 of 82: a man, a plan, and a parking ticket (clm) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (03:04 PM)

> not having to be simultaneous in a small group

That reminds me of another interesting part of the book: how
texting may lead to a more flexible sense of time.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#51 of 82: Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (03:17 PM)

Gail -- absolutely, when it comes to political decision-making, time for
deliberation makes for better decisions. That's why I think some proposals
for "instant electronic democracy" by enabling citizens to vote on issues
in real-time are recipes for disaster. We already see that instant polling
enables politicians to tailor their messages to the local audiences on a
day by day basis. And as we've seen from Nigeria, not all popular
demonstrations are non-violent or necessarily democratic.

However -- I keep stressing this -- I think we need to see collective
action in a broader and longer-term context than flash-crowds and mobs.
Science, money, democratic nation-states, stock markets, the web, eBay --
these are all examples of institutions that started grow only when certain
thresholds were lowered -- in terms of trust, breadth and speed of
communication, affordability of communication, and other factors.

Jon -- yes, that's the Benkler essay that Phred pointed out.

inkwell.vue 166: Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs
#52 of 82: Dave Hughes (dave) Sat 23 Nov 2002 (06:38 PM)

Be careful of your terms, Howard. Electronic democracy is NOT, to be,
just the act of voting. From the git go, after I set up the Rogers Bar
BBS in Colorado Springs in 1980, in the place where democratic union
politics had always been discussed in the Republican town, I conceived
it to be a place where anyone could come on line and DISCUSS, and
DEBATE the issues, and then act as they would, individually - vote,
lobby, organize, whatever.

For to me the American political process consisted of at least three
phases - getting or distributing information, discussing and/or debating
the issues, then voting, individually.

What I felt had diminished greatly in America was the 'discussion/debate'
(outside the narrow circle of ones acquaintences) part where (1)
individuals by discussing, have to think, and by listening (reading)
what everyone else has to say, make up ones own mind (2) become even
more informed on the facts, as others bring in facts not disemminated
by media.

As one 'student' of mine (publisher of a newspaper) said "Its the
New England Town Hall over an Electronic Back Fence in Colorado"

For it (the BBS) obviously had several advantages over the 'traditional'
political processes. (1) it was convenient to the individual to come
into the discussion, just as all you do here, asynchrously, at YOUR
time schedule not the schedule of announced, face to face meetings or
debate (2) it is in the written, not oral, form - with operates at
a higher level of cognition than verbal jousting, speaking, listening
(and forgetting) (3) EVERYONE can have their say, which never can
happen in any but the smallest f-t-f meetings. AND since people can
read 10 times faster than other people can type, and at least 3 times
faster than other people can talk, there is more 'discussion' per hour
online than f-t-f. All there has to be is a light handed moderator
(the most overlooked requirement in every online discussion I have
ever been in - including on the Well - to keep order, keep the
discussion shaped to the general purpose of the online meeting, to
prevent one 'personality' from dominating everything, and even ask
questions or stimulate discussion on related topics. Freeform
discussions without moderation are usually failures, or do such
topic drift that nothing comes out of it. (4) THROUGH the discussion
it is easier for many individuals to make up their own minds. (5)
the obvious disadvantages of media - one way, often slanted, very
selective, and most recently dominated by those with the greatest
war chest, is finessed. Bypassed.

I could go on. There are many more aspects to this. The 'communications'
commons, wireless or wired, can support this kind of process. Which
can and will give rise

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