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Smart Mobs II March 20, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in New Media, Smart Mobs.
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Last week, I started off my post by summarizing Smart Mobs by Howard Rheingold with the term “community.” The second half of Rheingold’s book extends the community sentiment not just by discussing communities of people, but what happens when mobile technology permeates every corner of that community and weaves it together. (As a side note, the term “weave” seems especially apt in this circumstance, especially since the title of one of Rheingold’s chapters is Wireless Quilts.)

Traditionally, community has been restricted by location. Communities coalesced around the town square; they were places where people could physically unite to discuss the issue of the day, gossip about neighbors and connect with fellow citizens.

Along the same lines, information was restricted by location. To obtain money or financial information, you had to go to a bank. To get a pair of pants, you had to go to a tailor. To find out about a restaurant, you had to ask around until you found someone who had previously dined there.

But what happens when all of that information exists all around us, embedded in the social fabric? If you can point a cell phone or a mobile environment reader any given object and get reviews, recommendations, coupons, and more information about it? What if we live in a world as Weisner (p. 87) envisioned, a sore of “ubicomp?”

At that point, community isn’t just about people. It is about the people around us and the material environment that they live in.

And what if every stranger you ran into wasn’t so strange? One day, everyone might have the ability to follow any other person’s digital trail and track their personal reputation, as Rheingold suggests in chapter 5. Virtual communities like eBay operate on trust and the “shadow of the future.” In a digital world, as that shadow becomes increasingly discoverable, it also reshapes the ability of people to misrepresent themselves to the people around them.

And last, what if word of mouth isn’t restricted to the physical? If ubiquitous mobile techology makes communication easier, you are able to see events like the protests leading to the fall of Estrada in the Philippines (p. 157) or the growing protest in Seattle during the WTO Summit.

What if you can locate a stranger 3,000 miles away, learn everything about them engage them to act on behalf of a cause, or convince them to vote for a candidate, or buy a product, or share some news with a friend?

So what is the “why question” that bundles all of these questions?

Why is wireless communication technology important?

And the answer?

Because it revolutionizes what a community is and what it can do.

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