Smart mobs and antiwar protests

Smart mobs and antiwar protests

Smart Mobs is a book and website by Howard Rheingold. It’s about how technology allows fast, distributed organizing with no apparent leaders. Sounds like the peace movement, eh?

Rheingold explains the theory:

“Smart mobs emerge when communication and computing technologies amplify human talents for cooperation. The impacts of smart mob technology already appear to be both beneficial and destructive, used by some of its earliest adopters to support democracy and by others to coordinate terrorist attacks. The technologies that are beginning to make smart mobs possible are mobile communication devices and pervasive computing – inexpensive microprocessors embedded in everyday objects and environments. Already, governments have fallen, youth subcultures have blossomed from Asia to Scandinavia, new industries have been born and older industries have launched furious counterattacks.

Street demonstrators in the 1999 anti-WTO protests used dynamically updated websites, cell-phones, and “swarming” tactics in the “battle of Seattle.” A million Filipinos toppled President Estrada through public demonstrations organized through salvos of text messages.”

He sees the massive worldwide protests last weekend as a perfect example of Smart Mobs

“The New York Times reports on the use of the Internet and mobile communications by organizers and participants in worldwide protests against the Bush administrations war plans.

The protests had no single identified leader and no central headquarters. Social theorists have a name for these types of decentralized networks: heterarchies. In contrast to hierarchies, with top-down structures, heterarchies are made up of previously isolated groups that can connect to one another.

One huge advantage that heterarchies and decentralized networks have is that hierarchies don’t understand them. They keep looking for a head to chop off as the best way to stop them, not understanding that there is no head. It’s like the Internet, there is no central source, any node can talk to any node.

Weblogs, like this one, are another example. Information flows very fast through blogs, getting filtered, added onto, tweaked, as it speeds its way through cyberspace. Geographical location or time zone becomes irrelevant. Wheee.