Re: Smart Mobs

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Wed 12 Feb 2003 - 03:58:50 GMT

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    >From: "Grant Callaghan" <>
    >Subject: Smart Mobs
    >Date: Fri, 31 Jan 2003 08:26:51 -0800
    >From Technology Review
    >Dystopian visions of the future explore the power of virtual communities.
    >Most cultures preserve their traditions and transmit values by telling
    >stories about their past. Americans used to do the same, back when the
    >Western was perhaps our most popular genre. Yet, somewhere around the
    >mid-twentieth century, we began to examine our most cherished values and
    >deepest questions through exploring the future.
    >Science fiction is a genre about discontinuities rather than continuities,
    >change rather than tradition, and about open questions rather than
    >tried-and-true wisdom. It could only emerge at the moment when cycles of
    >cultural and technological change could be viewed within a single lifetime.
    >Today, the rate of change has accelerated to the point where we only need
    >to go “twenty minutes from now” to envision radical cultural shifts and
    >extraordinary technological advances.
    >The genre has also gone through quite a transformation in the last 80
    >years—a shift from gee-whiz wonderment toward an increasing dystopia; from
    >grand engineering enterprises to what cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling calls
    >“tech that sticks to the skin”; from scientific experimentation to the
    >social, political, economic, and cultural impact of new media. To some
    >degree, these changes reflect science fiction’s broadening readership. But
    >they also reflect a shift in how we perceive technology. No longer under
    >the control of the guys in the white lab coats, new tech is literally under
    >our skin, attached to our bodies, tossed into our backpacks.
    >Hugo Gernsbeck, the pulp magazine publisher widely credited with inspiring
    >the American strand of science fiction, saw the genre as a vehicle for
    >fostering broader public debate about technological change and scientific
    >theory. At one time, he considered printing the factual information in
    >italics, but then decided that allowing readers to debate what was or
    >wasn’t true would spark a more thoughtful audience. While people read and
    >write science fiction for many different reasons, the desire to speculate
    >and explore new theories remains central to the genre’s appeal. Writers are
    >both consumers and popularizers of theoretical debates.
    >A case in point is Global Frequency, a new comic book series by Warren
    >Ellis. Set in the near future, Global Frequency depicts a multiracial,
    >multinational organization of ordinary people who contribute their services
    >on an ad hoc basis. As Ellis explains, “You could be sitting there watching
    >the news and suddenly hear an unusual cell phone tone, and within moments
    >you might see your neighbor leaving the house in a hurry, wearing a jacket
    >or a shirt with the distinctive Global Frequency symbol...or, hell, your
    >girlfriend might answer the phone...and promise to explain later...Anyone
    >could be on the Global Frequency, and you'd never know until they got the
    >call.” Ellis's story responds to significant shifts in the media
    >environment—in particular the increasing role of mobile phones and wireless
    >computing—but also to speculations about their social and political impact.
    >It is almost as though Ellis was illustrating arguments that Howard
    >Rhinegold makes in his new book, Smart Mobs. As Rhinegold explains, "Smart
    >mobs consist of people who are able to act in concert even if they don't
    >know each other. The people who make up smart mobs cooperate in ways never
    >before possible because they carry devices that possess both communication
    >and computing capabilities.... Groups of people using these tools will gain
    >new forms of social power."
    >This is important stuff—a compelling new theory about political power and
    >social affiliation from the man who coined the term “virtual community.”
    >Rhinegold offers a number of examples, ranging from the "thumb tribes" in
    >Japan whose social life is organized around instant messaging to the
    >antiglobalization movement’s alternative news organizations, from the
    >reader-moderation on Slashdot to the use of cell phones to wage revolution
    >in the Philippines. Global Frequency and Smart Mobs hit the stands at
    >almost the same moment and compliment each other perfectly. Both help to
    >bring ideas from top research facilities to lay readers.
    Can't comment on the latter part of the post, but the part abou dystopias caught my eye. This genre is quite older than popularly assumed. Upon reading some literary criticism of Orwell's 1984 I stumbled upon a reference to Russian author Yevgeny Zamayatin's novel _We_, which may be a candidate for the ur-dystopian novel. There's also Huxley's (Darwin's bulldog's grandson and modern synthesis guru Julian's brother Aldous) _Brave New World_ and Orwell's _!984_ (Room 101 anyone?...rats!). I've recently been reading Nolan and Johnson's _Logan's Run_ which had the honorable distinction of being adapted to a movie and a television series, IIRC the former starring Michael York and the latter Gregory Harrison. While reading the book I not only compare it to the other dystopias, but also to the movie and TV series and I'm not sure how well the book coincides with the movie or TV series. I had listened to _Fahrenheit 451_ on CD book format and watched the movie and IIRC there were discrepancies. What's the deal with filming movie that faithfully follow a book? Can it be done? I've got
    _!984_ (DVD version starring John Hurt) on order, so I'll see how this holds.

    The modern dystopias are _The Matrix_ (that great Berkeleyian/Malebranchian idealistic/solipsistic "brain in a vat" uberepic with sequels in the can for this year) and _Minority Report_, which wasn't all that bad itself.

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