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Also in this Issue:

november 04, 2002
Inside the Internet Archive

by Doug Roberts


october 28, 2002
An Interview with Warren Ellis
by Melanie McBride


Smart Mobs
by Howard Rheingold
reviewed by Cory Doctorow



November 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 noticed.

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 living.

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 The Infinite Matrix. He lives in San Francisco, where he works as Outreach Coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.


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