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Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution Paperback – 25 Sep 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Perseus Books; New Ed edition (25 Sept. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738208612
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738208619
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.7 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 535,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Howard Rheingold is a leading authority on the social implications of technology. A former founding editor of HotWired, he has served as editor of The Whole Earth Review and editor-in-chief of The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog, and on-line host for The Well. He lives in Mill Valley, California.

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If you want to experience virtual reality without putting your head in a computer, take the subway to Shibuya station and follow the signs to "Hachiko." Read the first page
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By P. Golding on 27 May 2003
Format: Hardcover
Rheingold is a widely publicised techno-oracle of our age, having made his mark with his earlier works and ideas on virtual reality. If you’re already familiar with the potential of mobile technology, then this book may disappoint a little, especially if one is looking for something very prescient from the mind of Rheingold. In fact, his book is more about observations, full of vignettes from many encounters with both users and creators of mobile phone technology. The emphasis is on the social arrangements that are facilitated by mobile technology and he offers some useful takes on the influence of cultural context, a refreshing change from a US-centric view that one might otherwise expect.
Rheingold revisits the submersion aspects of VR by digging deeper into the progress made in wearable computing and the greater possibilities that wireless connectivity now offers. The segues from current technology and social practises to what is plausibly possible in the future are quite believable, the reflection and experience of Rheingold appears to restrain how far he is willing to speculate. Augmented reality is discussed. This appears highly conceivable and Rheingold helps us to understand its new powers thanks to location-finding technologies combined with ubiquitous wireless access.
In the current climate of doomsayers for wide-area wireless (e.g. 3G), this book is worth reading as it reclaims some of the lost ground and puts it back in the camp of the believers, those for whom true ubiquity is an article of faith. By emphasising on the social shaping powers of mobile technology, Rheingold is reinforcing the virtuous circle between ubiquity and utility, although, not wishing to over hype the benefits, Rheingold bravely pricks our sanitised view of technology by cautioning us about some of the negative consequences of pervasive (Invasive) technology.
For a more detailed and immediate analysis of next generation mobile services,
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By "rstevens1970" on 27 April 2005
Format: Paperback
I found the book a thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable read. It includes plenty of examples and Rheingold's thoughts on how the mobile phone especially will change society. To me it seems to build on thoughts in Timo Kopomaa's book City in Your Pocket, and now more recent books such as Paul Golding's Next Generation Wireless Applications, or Ahonen & Moore's Communities Dominate Brands seem to then take these concepts from the academic and philosphical views into the more practical. I warmly recommend this book and am certain it will be considered one of the classics of the industry.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 32 reviews
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Describes the Techno-Powered Popular Revolution 11 Nov. 2002
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At the very end of the book, the author quotes James Madison as carved into the marble of the Library of Congress: "...a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." And there it is--Howard Rheingold has documented the next level of the Internet, in which kids typing 60 words a minute with one thumb, "swarms" of people converging on a geospatial node guided only by their cell phones; virtual "CIAs" coming together overnight to put together massive (and accurate) analysis with which to take down a corporate or government position that is fradulent--this is the future and it is bright.
As I go back through the book picking out highlights, a few of the following serve to capture the deep rich story being told by this book--breakthroughs coming from associations of amateurs rather than industry leaders; computer-mediated trust brokers--collective action driven by reputation; detailed minute-by-minute information about behaviors of entire populations (or any segment thereof); texting as kid privacy from adult hearing; the end of the telephone number as relevant information; the marriage of geospatial and lifestyle/preference information to guide on the street behavior; the perennial problem of "free riders" and how groups can constrain them; distributed processing versus centralized corporate lawyering; locations with virtual information; shirt labels with their transportation as well as cleaning history (and videos of the sex partners?)--this is just mind-boggling.
Finally, the author deserves major credit for putting all this techno-marvel stuff into a deep sociological and cultural context. He carefully considers the major issues of privacy, control, social responsibility, and group behavior. He ends on very positive notes, but also notes that time is running out--we have to understand where all this is going, and begin to change how we invest and how we design everything from our clothing to our cities to our governments.
This is an affirming book--the people that pay taxes can still look forward to the day when they might take back control of their government and redirect benefits away from special interests and back toward the commonwealth. Smart mobs, indeed.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Smart mobs, really smart book 25 Oct. 2002
By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Smart mobs" sounds like an oxymoron: after all, what's more impulsive or uncontrolled than a mob? It's typical of Howard Rheingold to throw down such a brightly-colored rhetorical gauntlet, and then to describe how smart mobs are emerging in places as diverse as Tokyo, anti-globalization protests, and virtual communities. Forget images of mobs storming the Bastille, or rioters: smart mobs are a new kind of social organization, made possible by real-time, connective technologies-- cell phones, SMS, pagers, and the Web. If old-fashioned mobs were just giant assemblies of individuals, communications technologies give them nervous systems, the ability to coordinate their actions, to work together, and respond to changes and challenges. Smart mobs are not automatically good or evil. The crowds that brought down Phillipine president Joseph Estrada responded to calls put out via SMS. Anti-globalization protesters have been avidly embraced network technologies. So has Al Qaeda.
Some readers will doubtless find familiar ideas in "Smart Mobs:" for whatever odd reason, 2002 has been The Year of Books About Self-Organizing Social Networks, thanks to writers as different at Steven Johnson ("Emergence") and Mark Taylor ("The Moment of Complexity"). But Rheingold is scrupulous and generous about acknowleding his influences; besides, the real value of his book lies in his own fieldwork, and his reflections on what the smart mob phenomenon will mean for business, politics, and social life. Even if your copy of Wolfram is dog-eared and the spine is weak from re-reading (and let's face it, whose isn't), it's still worth following Rheingold through Shibuya, Helsinki, and the Web...
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Design for Community Mini Review 28 Oct. 2002
By Derek Powazek - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Howard Rheingold has impeccable timing. In the mid 80s, aware that personal computers were changing the way we think, he wrote Tools for Thought. In the early 90s, he explored how emerging digital networks were changing social groups in The Virtual Community. Twice now he's put words to important social/digital trends, years before they reach critical mass.
So when Rheingold writes a book, it's a good idea to pay attention. His new book, Smart Mobs, takes a hard look at what happens when networked virtual communication goes mobile. And it's a mind-bending read.
Consider for a moment that, for a good many years, personal computers sat in offices and living rooms totally disconnected from each other. It seems quaint now, but I remember that time. And if you can remember the sea change that happened in the world when all those computers (and the people behind them) got connected to the internet, you can get some inkling of the change Rheingold predicts is on its way when that same networked computational power goes mobile.
We're in for another whirlwind of change in technology, and with it, a change in the way communities come together and express themselves. The book is a captivating exploration of what these new technologies are (think internet-enabled, location-aware mobile phones and PDAs) and how they're already shaping communities around the world.
Howard's writing is engaging and deep, and the book is an evenhanded exploration of the new technology, both good and bad. If you want a glimpse of the virtual communities of the future, pick up his book and follow the ongoing conversation at
(Reprinted from with permission.)
40 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Very cool technology, very uninspired prose 31 Aug. 2003
By Jerry Brito - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In Smart Mobs, Howard Rheingold catalogues the technologies that are converging to change the way we live: mobile communications, social networks, distributed processing and pervasive computing. He does a good job of identifying and explaining these and predicting what it will mean when they get together. This makes for an interesting read, but I'm afraid I still found the book maddening.
The worst thing is that a whole half the book is in quotes (or worse, block quotes) from other people and their dissertations or promotional materials. This makes the book lack a singular voice and is very disconcerting. Rheingold not only attributes everything to a fault, he also has the bad habit of explaining where he interviewed each person, what they ate, what funny thing the interviewee had in their office. This makes for ponderous, stalling prose that is painful to read.
He also makes the Lessig-inspired mistake of dividing the world into two camps: the government and big media are lumped on one side, and heroic no-property anarchists are placed in the other. He's right to point out that big media's vested interests are a creature of government, but he doesn't get that that really isn't capitalism. A true market is the ultimate form of the mediated cooperation he pines for.
If you are a techno-cultural geek, you have to read this book. But take it with a grain of salt, and brace yourself for plenty of minutiae.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
The future of games 3 April 2003
By Mark Mills - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Rheingold writes from the perspective of the enthusiast. He is still trying to keep up with the kids and shares their distain for authority. I wonder if Howard ever met an anarchist he didn't like.
So, we get to 'run with the pack' for a while. It seems the kids are constructing a society of self-organizing, ad-hoc networks founded on wearable wireless computers, mediated by privacy protection algorithms. Their networks are always on and location aware. The computer is mutating into a universal remote-control wand and the purpose is having fun.
If it's not fun, the kids don't do it. The kids find their friends via the internet, keep in touch via cell phones and turn the city into a game board with GPS. It is all amazing and new.
What does it mean? It means more "wealth, knowledge and civil society". There will be new forms of "sex, commerce, entertainment and conflict." The danger comes from the adult crowd, the 'big brother' bureaucracies that will want to redirect all this creativity into a straight-jacket.
It seems the decision we have to make involves our use of the 'commons', or in modern parlance, the 'internet'. Will we allow the 'free riders' to sink the ship? Will we allow the fence builders to steal our playground?
To engage in the debate, Rheingold does a good job of teaching enough chaos theory to make sense of the issues. You might get tired of him invoking the prisoner's dilemma and 'swarm intelligence', but they are interesting ideas. It's a bit thin, but the book is rushing through so many gadgets, inventors and theories that I didn't mind.
Personally, I'm not sure there is anything 'new' to be invented about sex and entertainment. The most important exploration is the discovery of self. 'Sex, commerce, entertainment and conflict' may provide ever changing milestones in that journey, but I doubt our experience of despair and wonder are any different than they were 1000 years ago. Would a network of wearable computers help Hamlet make up his mind? Would Hamlet have wanted assistance? Additionally, the reader ought to be aware that the themes elucidated by Rheingold: 1) interconnectedness, 2) compression of time and 3) demassification are commonly used in defense department articles on the 'modern warrior'. It's not all fun and games.
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