Howard Rheingold on Smart Mobs

(The last in my series of retroactive summaries.) Howard Rheingold spoke at Stanford on October 24, 2003. His talk, entitled, “Smart Mobs: Mobile Communication, Pervasive Computing, and Collective Action,” centered around several themes raised in his most recent book, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution.    (AZ)

Rheingold suggests that there is a threshold for collective action, and current technology is causing us to approach and, in some cases, surpass that threshold. He cited many, many interesting examples, among them:    (B0)

  • The most recent presidential election in South Korea, where a web site that sent thousands of e-mails and SMS messages in the days preceding helped determine the outcome.    (B1)
  • The Howard Dean campaign.    (B2)
  • The observation that the personal computer became a tool for the masses in the United States when the price came down to one month’s salary of the average lower middle class family ($2,000-3,000). Rheingold then stated that wireless handhelds will reach that threshold on a worldwide basis (approximately $70) within the next three to six years.    (B3)

Rheingold described a project that a friend from Microsoft Research developed. The friend took an IPAQ with wireless networking and a camera, and developed a bar code reader that would query the UPC database and then do a Google search on the product. Rheingold scanned a box of prunes in his friend’s kitchen, which resulted in articles on Sun-Diamond Corporation that raised questions about its environmental practices. What would be the impact of a tool like this if it were available on a wide scale? Such a scenario is not only possible, it is probable within the next few years.    (B4)

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