COMsumers | Recommended Books | Strategic Foresight

Unbound Spiral: SMART MOBS EMERGE FROM DREAMS

November 20, 2002 04:41 PM

 

Smart Mobs
Today's post reviews SMART MOBS by Howard Rheingold who many have admired for his passion and thinking development around communities. SMART MOBS recognizes and captures a new paradigm. As he says "....a technology that is going to change my life in ways I can scarcely imagine..." Ultimately that is my real bone of contention with this book.

It's unfinished. We must collaborate on dreams to seed tomorrow's solutions.

My attraction to SMART MOBS was the language that enables swarms to emerge from science and appear in our daily lives. The theories aren’t really new and neither are the observations, which never break any new ground. It is a masterful collection of sources capable of leading you on a merry journey. Yet someone not already partially aware may find it tedious, for within a descriptive prose it fails to uncover real dreams for tomorrow. As a result it won’t create many inspiring new options for you. It may stimulate further inquiry. It is timely and yet primarily observational tracing to Howard Rheingold’s 2001 journey of discovery.


If you are new to Napster, SMS and Seti, or books by Kurzwiel or Mann and don’t know what 802.11b is, then this book may provide plenty to think about. Did I mention Lessig, Winer and Searles, or Seattle, participation on eBay, surveillance? The list could go on.

This book is exploratory not prescriptive. Not all the facts and observations are likely to be correct. It fails to address questions that CEO’s marketers and strategists should ask about a SMART MOB world. If you send it to your CEO friend (not HP, Motorola, Sony IBM etc. who better be very familiar with the concepts) for Christmas make sure you make it your job to get them thinking constructively beyond this book. Sell them a Learning Journey; collapse Howard’s travels over two years into two days. Then help them create. Here there is not enough to move the majority of businesses forward. If you see possible impacts on your business the challenge will be to create a dream and road map for action. For CEO’s it fails to conceptualize how smart mobs will affect the business model. Or how will money be made in a world like this? What does marketing mean in a smart mob world?

So let’s give FIVE STARS for those that need SMART MOBS as a wake-up call, and realize that the book is out of date. I believe much is inevitable. Hidden within are market-changing concepts and ideas. Believe and you will ultimately need to rethink everything regardless of market and industry, from Inventory to customer complaints.

Smart Mobs covers a lot of ground. Some like music sharing or texting we take for granted now. Not all of it exists on our doorsteps. The changes are global and local. However the emergence and impact can’t be confined to your business, market or learning environment. The challenge is also personal. I wish HR had spelled it out more boldly. You will need to take a stand. A revolution is in the making. It will tip the whole system, as we know it. Think about your position on intellectual property, digital exchanges. How should wireless spectrum be regulated? What is the future of publishing? Are you managing your reputation? Where do you place your bets and investments? How should learning and education change? Will this affect my government? Etc.

If you have views on these things and need examples, use this book. Don’t wait for a follow-up edition. Share your motivation to learn and swarm on curiosity seeking answers collaboratively in real-time. For the next hit about SMART MOBS won’t be written by an individual. It will emerge collectively perhaps bloggedly with many faces, contributing. Despite today’s uncertainty the web is already a better place to learn, experiment and prototype these things. Resorting to a book is catch-up! There are daily blogs that provide more up to date perspectives. The supportive SMART MOBS blog tries to step into real time. It has a nice focus. It has a theme to clip around. Absorb the postings and you will probably be on your way.

My largest learning’s in the book came from the link made to Steve Mann and CYBORG. Again this is not news. Mann has been a roving CYBORG for twenty years. His experience shows there is a problem in the language. The link that Howard makes bringing Cyborgs into this picture was interesting to me. His quoting of Mann was worth reading the book for: “The smart room is a retrograde concept that empowers the structure over the individual, imbuing our houses, streets and public spaces with the right to constantly observe and monitor us for the purported benefit of ensuring we are never uncomfortable or forced to get up from the armchair to switch on a lamp…” Naturally Mann’s research is working to foster independence using wearable computers. Bring it back to today. Now look at networking your house. Will you wire it? Or simply go wireless? Wireless is already winning on cost!

For those that know how technologies trickle down and where to look, Smart Mobs gives great examples out of DARPA. (Mesh networks and more.) When our kids and soldiers operate this way. Take notice. The book may also help you understand quickly why the regulations around wireless and selling bandwidth have been a mistake. We now have incumbents with enormous investments trying to protect and maintain a system that is no longer effective. Change the way Wireless is regulated or simply watch it overturned by consumers.

I am not raving madly about this book for I’d like a stronger conclusion. I really believe Howard is on the side of decentralization, collaborative communities, protecting the innovation commons and thinking about governing in a world of SMART MOBS. SMART MOBS is simply another name for communities of consumers (COMSUMERS) empowered and collaborating to accelerate the use of their information assets. Are costs for moving to unbound systems rapidly dropping? SMART MONEY will be on invisibly aggregating these new markets while consumers stay in control.

There is a thread. Not one I found blaring out in the book. SMART MOBS accelerate learning. Whether you are part of a music sharing community, fighting on a battlefield, a human cyborg, all are part of collaborative SMART MOBS prototyping real-time solutions. They are more open source by nature. The thread is there. Napster hot lists and the emergent subscription communities around blogging for example.

Despite underscoring SMART MOBS as the next social revolution there is little clarity on when the revolution will tip. What is the tipping point? As examples from Philippines to Seattle show, systems can tip in just a few days. There is an inherent suggestion that systems around wireless may tip and become P2P based. I remember writing such a Scenario a couple of years ago. As we wrote it CYBIKO was announced (another example in the book) which added credibility to our scenario. That stimulated a financial discussion (the book lacks any financial insight about tipping points). How close is it? That will be for you the reader to guesstimate.

This decade will continue to challenge us all. The way we live, collaborate, and connect though communities that swarm, sometimes for seconds and others towards eternity. Smart Mobs goes beyond just applying Moore’s, Reid’s, and Metcalf’s laws and yet never really brings urgency to the challenges that face us. As a business you cannot afford to wait!