Hward Rhiengold is a person who can spot revolutions before they happen, says the New York Times. Author of the “Virtual Community” book in 1993, his next book is on “Smart Mobs” and will be released later in the year. Writes NYT:
[Smart Mobs] has been coined by the author Howard Rheingold to describe groups of people equipped with high-tech communications devices that allow them to act in concert whether they know each other or not.
This phenomenon is showing up among teens in tech meccas like Tokyo, where wireless text messages have caught on in a big way. American hip-hop fans, using two-way pagers, spontaneously appear for parties. And in Finland, members of a local cooperative mix the virtual and the physical by communicating via pagers and cellphones to meet at their club.
It’s not all fun and games. Smart mobs in Manila contributed to the overthrow of President Joseph Estrada in 2001 by organizing demonstrations via forwarded cellphone text messages. Protesters at the World Trade Organization gathering in Seattle in 1999 were able to check into a sprawling electronic network to see which way the tear gas was blowing. Or they could use the network to determine their preferred level of involvement: nonviolent demonstrations, civil disobedience or mass arrests.
Mr. Rheingold argues that the convergence of wireless communications technologies and widely distributed networks allow swarming on a scale that has never existed before. He envisions shifts along the lines of those that began to occur when people first settled into villages and formed nation-states. “We are on the verge of a major series of social changes that are closely tied into emerging technologies,” he said.
This blossoming of smart mobs will probably happen despite the interests of business, Mr. Rheingold said, not because of any plan. He points to other technologies, like Napster, that have emerged into broad acceptance to the horror of larger business interests, and said that smart mobs could be setting the stage for the next big fight of the new economy over control of personal information and of the technologies that connect people.