Is Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs worth your time?

Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution – Transforming Cultures and Communities in the Age of Instant Access.

Rheingold, H. (2002). Smart mobs: The next social revolution. Cambridge, MA: Perseus

This is my first Howard Rheingold book and I have been looking forward to reading it given the multiple reviews I heard from professors and colleagues. The gist of the book discusses how new communication (wireless/mobile) technologies help bring  communities together and foster collaboration and cooperation in new ways.

Mr. Rheingold is undoubtedly years ahead of his time in examining virtual communities, a term he invented, and uses of new technologies by societies when most people back in the day did not know what an email was, nor had ever seen a cell phone. He sees beyond the orthodox and traditional communicative benefits of mobile devices, and focuses on the social and cultural implications these devices have translated into, such as forming virtual communities, claiming a certain status, and even leading a different life through electronic message exchanges, all of which are applications that couldn’t have been imagined before.

Rheingold takes a closer look at the social implications of such phenomena, and questions the future social forms using today’s texting means. His breakthrough thinking predicts
that mobile and pervasive technologies will reach further into our lives; a prediction which was proven accurate in future years. In hind sight, Rheingold’s attempt to assess the freshly born relationships as a result of new communication technologies and his skepticism around the quality of such bonds may have triggered the focus and attracted the attention of social scientists around such developments. One of the important connections he establishes is the way new media will change how people cooperate with these new communication technologies at their disposal, as opposed to their innate desire to exist in groups; small groups without the need for regulatory authority or coercive means for serving the public good of the whole group.

The book gets more and more interesting as Rheingold takes us on a world journey, learning and inquiring from random observations to themed business cases. What’s most fascinating is his early observation about the arrival of the Internet – a successful
example of artificial public good – and the impact Peer-to-peer power, computing, OpenCOLA, indexing, and ad-hocracies have in enabling the infrastructure for new ways to organize smart mobs’ collective action via communication technology and on a massive scale. Yet what scares me most about this book quite frankly, is how Rheingold attributes the survival of the Internet to the million people who then thought creating web pages is a cool thing to do and started doing so freely, thus forcing venture capitalists to pay attention and pay up.

This was an incredible turn of events which later on proved to unleash the true force of
the Internet and its capabilities in a manner which shifted the very fabric of human communications and relationships. Some examples of these applications are conducting research to cure AIDS or Cancer, forecasting weather, geological studies, online-dating, rendering films and much more!

Aside from his competency as a critic, writer and teacher on the cultural, social and
political implications of modern communication media, Howard Rheingold is also
a person of vivid imagination. Not only does he imagine a new medium where the
power of the message lies within the relevance of the content to its audience; weblogs, rather than in its broadcasting on network television, Rheingold’s touches on the Reputation System in which a certain level of expectation is set for people to look back on and where cooperation is essential! If you consider the timing of this insight which was only one year before Google acquired Pyra Labs¹; the inventors of Blogging services, one would appreciate Rheingold’s analytical skills and deep insight. With over 112 million
English-speaking blogs in 2008², the reputation system and the management of this system via blogs brought on a new dawn for group formation, free roaming and sharing of resources, another analysis in which Rheingold was right on the money.

I absolutely loved this book and enjoyed the engaging style with which it was written. I
specifically appreciated the story-telling quality embedded throughout and the journey
through time and place. Although this book dates back to 2002 where many theories
since then may have changed and more developments taken place, I wholeheartedly
recommend reading Smart Mobs. I even encourage to keeping it in your library as
it serves as both historical reference and documentation of case studies of the different businesses and the advances they were toying/experimenting with back in the day.  I am curious however to find if Rheingold has published a sequel to this book and how his insight or theories may have been adjusted since 2002.


¹ Sullivan, D. (February 18, 2003). Google buys blogging company – But Why? Search Engine Watch. Retrieved from Searchenginewatch

² Helmond, A. (February 11, 2008). How many blogs are there? Is someone still counting? – Blog Herald. Retrieved from the blogherald


1 Comment

  1. […] Ruba: Smart Mobs […]

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