04, 2002 | Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs is not
the first book to be written about the ad-hocratic times we find
ourselves living in, and it won't be the last, but page for page,
you won't find a better summing-up of all the disparate bitzenpieces
that add up to a genuine social revolution.
Smart Mobs are emergent ad-hoc networks of people who coalesce
out of the technosphere and do stuff. The Filipinos who massed
in their tens of thousands at the Popular Power II demonstration
in a matter of minutes, "coordinating" with a viral SMS message
that conjured a government-toppling force out of the Manila biomass
are the leading edge of the Smart Mob era.
Smart Mobs are the Slashdot effect applied to the meatspace zeitgeist.
A squillion like-minded souls who don't know each other and will
never meet pop out of the transmetropolitan brickface and break
the white-noise balance of atomic viewpoints to speak with one voice,
roaring a righteous YES or an adamant NO without organizers, without
leaders, without manifestoes or forethought.
Enabled by close-to-hand, invisibly-ubiquitous tech -- the Internet,
mobile phones, two-way pagers, blogs, the Web, WiFi -- they turn
meme into deed. Howard walks us through the thousand facets of the
Smart Mob non-movement, from Finnish wireless augmented reality
gamers to the tried-and-true Japanese schoolgirl speed-tribes to
earnest anti-Globalist Starbucks-smashers. We meet mystified (and
sometimes delighted) (and always delightful) suits from Nokia and
Japanese diversified zaibatsus and other bastions of traditional
authority, who are watching their Frankenstein Monster take its
first lumbering steps across the world.
Smart Mobs are packet-switched. Howard's book teases this out admirably.
Packet-switched means that you're not reliable, you're not in control,
you're not deterministic. Victorians of a certain bent adopted a
fatalistic view of the universe as an utterly predictable billiard-table
whose balls were set in motion by the Supreme First Mover. Smart
Mobs live in an evolutionary hothouse that has more in common with
the randomwalking properties of colony animals than with the military
discipline of yestercenturies revolutions, cartels and governments.
Japanese schoolgirls and Finnish teenagers and Filipino citizenry
and bloggers and warchalking gangs are all views into a packet-switched
future. As usual, Howard has nailed the ethic, the feeling
and the lightspeed futuristic frisson that he hammered in
with Virtual Community and his other books, revealing the
way that the world has already changed before any of us have even
I'm in this book -- and I'm honored to be there -- but that's not
why I'm so damned enthusiastic about it. This book is required reading
for this decade, the kind of prescient text that we'll look back
on in 2012 as a milestone on the path to the next iteration of human
Cory Doctorow is the co-editor
of the weblog Boing Boing.
His first novel, "Down
and Out in the Magic Kingdom" will be published by Tor
Books in January 2003 -- you can read an excerpt from it at
Infinite Matrix. He lives in San Francisco, where he works
as Outreach Coordinator for the Electronic