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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.


A new media history February 6, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in Blogs, New Media, We the Media.
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The first two weeks of reading for Introduction to the Digital Age can be summed up with one word — history.

New media history sounds like an oxymoron, especially when considering that the word “blog” just came into popular conscience in the past few years and that the founding technologies that made mass adoption of user-generated content came about just decades ago. Still, the readings for class this week (both from the book We the Media and from selected blogs) reveal that while the revolutionary new media changes did not happen to long ago, there is an important history there that needs to be remembered.

We the Media

We the Media, in addition to serving as a primer on what community-created content is and how it has shaped society in the past decade, is a history book. This isn’t just true in the opening chapter when author Dan Gillmor looks at historical trends of community journalism from Thomas Paine to present day. The understanding of the book as a work of history permeates through all of the chapters.

Consider these examples:

  • 2002: Bloggers jump on the mainstream media’s failure to cover the racist comments made by then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, which ultimately led to his resignation (chapter 3)
  • 2004: Wikipedia publishes its 500,000th article (chapter 7)
  • 2004: Internet billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban launches Blog Maverick, which has become a leading CEO blog (chapter 4)

At first glance, these events might not seem like history; they are still in recent memory. However, they are part of the recent record of events that has had a significant impact on the way that we need to look at and understand media and the way that people consume information.

Blog Readings

Just as We the Media can be read as a historical reference, so too can the blogs assigned for class reading over the past two weeks.

Dave Winer is a major part of the history of the social media revolution. This week, he added a bio to his blog that explains it all:

Dave Winer, 51, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software. Former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a masters in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelors in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

Without Winer, the popular blogging technologies (such as RSS) that are widely used today might not even be around.

Or consider Jeff Jarvis. His work has been famous for a long time, but thanks to new media he himself has become a brand — and, as he pointed out on his blog, led him to be named one of Forbes’ 25 “Web Celebs” for 2007.

These are just two examples, and there are many, many more. (Some of these prominent bloggers are mentioned by name by Gillmor.) A key take-away from all of these bloggers (and Gillmor) is that these men and women are history makers. They are pioneers in the field, and can teach a lot to newcomers like me who have only been blogging for about a year (first here and then here).

As professional communicators during the day and students of communication at night, it is important not to forget our history. Because where we came from illuminates where we are headed and makes us better professionally and academically.