Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution

Smart Mobs: The Next Social RevolutionI’ve finally whittled the reading list down to one book left, which is Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution by Howard Rheingold, a recommendation by Tom the Architect.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but I am about 3/4 of the way through it and am finding it extremely interesting.

According to Wikipedia, “A smart mob is a group that, contrary to the usual connotations of a mob, behaves intelligently or efficiently because of its exponentially increasing network links. This network enables people to connect to information and others, allowing a form of social coordination”.

The author begins by talking about his experience witnessing the first of what he calls “smart mobs” in Japan, where the citizens were using text messaging in order to coordinate meeting places and activities, or just to be constantly “in touch” with friends and relatives, sending each other jokes, images, or small messages.

From these small simple examples starting in Tokyo, Helsinki and the Philippines, the author then moves into talking about wearable computing and the possibilities available when wireless access to the Internet is ubiquitous and and available to everyone. Some of the examples he uses are technologies in which one can, by merging wearable computing, GPS, and the Internet, attach virtual notes to physical places where they can later be picked up by friends or used by others as educational devices about the physical world. He uses the Virtual Helsinki project as an example of these exciting new technologies.

Reading this book, if nothing else, makes you think of the endless possibilities in making wireless Internet ubiquitous and available to everyone at any time.

I know that personally, I’ve found text messaging to be great when wanting to stay in touch with Kelsi when she has gone on school band trips, just to receive a quick message as to where she is, what she is doing and things like that. While the start was a little bumpy while learning to type on a cell phone, the ability to stay in touch with family via quick messages that do not necessarily warrant a full conversation has proven to be extremely useful.

My first text message was written to Kelsi after she started talking about how “cool” it was (the author calls the kids of today “Generation txt”). I sent her my first text message that took about 15 minutes to type — standing in the middle of the mall — and consisted of the phrase “this is my first text message on a cell phone. Typing on a phone sucks.”. I was all proud of myself that I actually got the damn message typed into the phone and sent to her. Three seconds later, I got a paragraph back from her talking about what she liked about text messaging. The speed in which she typed this showed me how much a part of life this technology is today. Typing on a phone, or creating private message spaces is as much a part of the young culture today as bike riding was for me when I was a kid. As another illustration of this, Jake didn’t think twice when I asked him to type our WEP key for the wireless network in his PSP when he received it. I was dreading it, but he was done in under a minute. It would have taken me forever.

In a nutshell, here is the thing that I like most about this book so far. The author points to things going on right now that signal a huge shift in the way the Internet and wireless hand held devices mean for social interaction in the coming years. The shift is already happening. He also talks about research that has been going on for a while that will contribute to this cultural shift. Finally, he points, very effectively, to what this could mean to society as a whole and the possibilities inherent when the Internet is finally available to everyone.

The future looks exciting in the pages of this book, as long as we can make these technologies available to everyone.

As Tom and I were talking about this yesterday, he mentioned there was a web site dedicated to this kind of stuff. is the slashdot of the smart mobs, tracking news about the things covered in the book. Check it out.