Smart mobs are an interesting creation of technological progression. Howard Rheingold’s definition of smart mobs defines the entity eloquently, “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.” These mobile devices have the power to people to create new forms of social power and foster new forms of interaction between social groups in new places. I really enjoyed Rheingold’s reading of smart mobs because the general tone of his writing offered a positive and forward-thinking theoretical analysis of what smart mobs of capable of accomplishing. At one point in his reading I felt like he was loosely referring to the issues we dealt with in discussing the repercussions of media convergence in this passage, “contradictory and simultaneous effects are likely: People might gain new powers at the same time we lose old freedoms. New public goods could become possible, and older public goods might disappear.”
The decentralized organizational structure, lack of hierarchy and dynamically self-organizing characteristics of smart mobs are, simultaneously, its best asset and worst enemy. For example, the Occupy Wall Street movement that has recently made waves in the headlines in the recent weeks (surprising, since it’s been going on for nearly two months) was organized by the power of the, to put in Rehingold’s archaic terminology, “personal handheld device.” However the biggest critique of the #OWS (Twitter hashtag reference!) movement is that its main political aims are not clear. The general consensus between the liberal student body of Lawrence University is that the movement isn’t achieving anything but slowing down the functionality of certain streets of New York. While I think that’s a bit of an over statement, a fair criticism of the movement is that collecting people with shared beliefs is the easy part—organizing action is another. This is an example of a smart mob initiative that reflects the effectiveness of technology in terms of gathering bodies to a physical location but doesn't reflect the potential for these groups to create change.
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