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Science Fiction and Smart Mobs 63

Roland Piquepaille writes "Henry Jenkins is director of the Program in Comparative Media Studies at the MIT. In this article, he compares the new science fiction comic book from Warren Ellis, Global Frequency and the more serious book from Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs. 'It is almost as though Ellis was illustrating arguments that Howard Rheingold makes in his new book, Smart Mobs.' As Rheingold 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.' Check this column for some excerpts or read the original article for more details. More information about topics discussed in Howard Rheingold's last book can be found at the Smart Mobs weblog." T. adds: Here's Curtis Frye's review of Smart Mobs .
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Science Fiction and Smart Mobs

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  • Dumb Mobs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nooface ( 526234 ) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @01:25PM (#5204346) Homepage
    For an alternative perspective on mob behavior, see this article in Wired [].
    • Am I the only one who's getting sick of the Anti-Globalization movement's pointless existence?
    • Bruce Sterling is smart person and an interesting author but I think he missed the point.

      I went to an anti-war march in the States. There were a lot of people in the march whose politics I don't agree with. Most of the people probably. But the point was that everyone marching agreed that the war with Iraq is wrong.

      To me the march wasn't about long term policy so much as it was about immediate threat of war.

      Bruce claims technology makes it easy to gather a "million networked marchers on demand". However, the rest of the article talks about how these groups can't find common ground on any other issues. I think it is the prospect of war that makes it easy.

    • Smart Mob == Dumb Mob + Smart Leader; :(

      Function setSmartMobLanguage(pLanguage){
      if(pLanguage == "Polictical Correctness"){
      } else if(pLangauge == "Circles and Metaphores"){
      sendInTheTroops("right wingers");
      } else {
      sendInTheTroops("wackos and perverts");

  • Global behavior (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Can't the internet and it's constituents be considered a "smart mob"?
    • Not the internet in itself, just the applications on top of it (IM, e-mail, websites).

      An example of this is the organisation of a Highschool-pupil strike in Holland. (Yes, striking in puberty..:) )
      The whole project was set up by 3 - 5 people in about 5 days time. It swept the media too, which helpt, but they're main source of communication was e-mail.

      On the date of the strike, schools where empty and there was a great big mob of youngsters in The Hague (where the goverment sits).

      Hows that for a couple of minors?
  • from Theodore Sturgeon, is a classic science fiction tale where all get connected and sound a lot like this, but more integrated with us than using external devices.
  • I'm afraid Neal Stephenson beat this guy to it, a long time ago; he detailed the behavior of a "smart mob" in his book The Diamond Age [] (or,
    • A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer
    • For a better value of "a long time ago" than _The Diamond Age_, Larry Niven wrote "Flash Crowd" in 1973 and "The Last Days Of The Permanent Floating Riot Club" in 1974. oks/n/n iven.htm
  • by Dr. Wu ( 309239 ) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:02PM (#5204585) Homepage
    He wrote several short stories that dealt with the effects of technology on mobs. Although in his universe, it was teleportation that created the problem, it's certainly relevent with today's technology (just look at the /. effect)

    I know that they are included in several collections, the titles are...

    - Flash Crowd

    - The Last Days Of The Permanent Floating Riot Club

    Actually, some of his best writing is that which deals with the psychology of new technologies, such as teleportation. So I would highly recommend that those interested check his work out.
  • by einhverfr ( 238914 ) <> on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:17PM (#5204694) Homepage Journal
    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....

    Sounds a whole lot like how OSS projects are developed-- and we communicate and collaborate through devices with computing capabilities known usually as personal computers ;-)
  • Current Research (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Omegalomaniac ( 26573 ) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @02:18PM (#5204704)
    There is currently a system available to anonymize web transactions []. The legal implications of this are worth considering, with the current spat of court cases holding service providers responsible for the actions of their users.
  • I remember the story that if all one billion Chinese people jumped at the same instance, something terrible would happen (like a tidal wave would be created that would destroy Los Angeles).

    Of course, this is the same logic used to 'flush all the toilets on campus'.

    Now that there are smart mobs, maybe we can test these theories...

    Ready, set, JUMP!
  • There is an everquest joke to be made here...
  • Since no link was provided in the post, here they are: Global Frequency [] and Warren Ellis [] with a deep link to his GF [] page.
    • So if I want to read these things, what exactly do I have to do? The comics aren't in Amazon. DC's unnavigatable page seems to have nothing more than the Sneak Peak from months ago. Shouldn't Warren's site have a link to his baby?

      I don't read comics, I don't know where to buy these things! Here I am, out on the Internet, money burning a hole in my pocket and nobody is willing to take it from me. :(

  • by civilizedINTENSITY ( 45686 ) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @04:02PM (#5205317)
    From the bookreview:
    • Sarnoff's Law, which states that the value of a broadcast network is proportionate to the number of viewers.
    • Metcalfe's Law, which states that the value of a network where each node can reach every other node grows with the square of the number of nodes.
    • Reed's Law, which states that, for a network where members of the network can form groups within the network, the value of that network will grow exponentially. That is, the value of the network is equal to the number of nodes raised to the power of the number of nodes, instead of just the square of the number of nodes.

    That would be N^N which is faster than exponential

    Dr. David P. Reed, former vice president and chief scientist for Lotus Development Corporation, has developed the idea of Group Forming Networks to explain the enormous power of the internet to facilitate the formation of networked groups. These groups could include the numerous special interest groups, which are attacking the biotech industry. The Group Forming Law (or, Reed?s Law) calculates the number of groups of two or more people which can be formed a single group.

    For example, how many groups of two or more people can be formed with an initial group of three? According to Reed?s Law is 2^N-N-1 Substituting 3 for N the answer is 4. Not a very impressive number. However, the answer grows dramatically as N grow. For example, how many groups of two or more people can be formed in a classroom of 20 students? The answer? 1,048,555!!!

    More interesting statements @

    Reed notes:

    • "As the internet continues to expand, investments in Group-Forming Networks are likely to produce the biggest returns. As the scale increases, what important also shifts?When the Group-Forming Law takes hold, communities are king."


    • "The obvious conclusion is that whoever forms the biggest, most robust communities will win."

    These statements are surprisingly similar to those made by RAND in its discussion of netwars.

    RAND notes:

    • "Whoever masters the network form first and best will gain major advantages."


    • "The information revolution favors and strengthens networks, while it erodes hierarchies."

      "Hierarchies have a difficult time fighting networks."

      "It takes networks to fight networks."

    Finally, RAND states:

    • "Today, those who want to defend against netwar will, increasingly, have to adopt weapons, strategies, and organization designs like those of their adversaries. This does not mean mirroring the adversary, but rather learning how to draw on the same design principles that he has already learned about the rise of network from in the information age. These principles depend to some extent upon technological breakthroughs, but mainly on a willingness to innovate organizationally."

    • Actually, if you are interested in the science of networks, I would suggest reading Nexus [] (by Mark Buchanan []) an also Emergence [] (by Steven Johnson []). These two books are a nice introduction to the network effect and the theory of complexity. Of course, there is also the classical Order Out of Chaos [] (by Prigogine [] et al (Nobel laureate))

      I read those three books back to back (finished Mobs 3 days ago) and, taking these ideas together, you'll see an interesting picture develops.
      • My statistical thermodynamics prof. gave me a copy of Order Out of Chaos, and also The End of Certainty (both by Prigogine). Interesting laymen's texts. Worth reading. In terms of this topic, I'd recommend perusing That Sneaky Exponential--Beyond Metcalfe's Law to the Power of Community Building [] for an easy development of the equations involved in expressing, and the definition of, value, in (these types of) networks. This pretty much answers the arguement about value-added-per-new-node in the posted link Curtis Frye's review of Smart Mobs []

        Emergence and Nexus look (from their amazon descriptions) like worthwhile texts at the level of Prigogine's. I came across related math in Numerical Analysis II (matrix) and the stochastic methods sections of Operations Research. I freely admit that networks pose an interesting topic for modeling. I only hope to find the time to devote more units to exploration in the future. :-)
  • Bruce Sterling has written twice about smart mobs. It's been a while since I read it, but IIRC he wrote about them in:

    Distraction, as an event that was discussed in the novel, where a random mob suddenly comes together to completely destroy a bank in under two minutes.

    A short story in A Good Old Fashioned Future where a computer mediates between people doing almost random favors for each other that result in great things being accomplished.

    • ...features a "smart mob" of people bound together in a secret society where each person is required to undertake tasks without understanding the motives behind the tasks. All members were also required to wear bracelets rigged with explosives to ensure their compliance.

      In a sense the "drummers" in Neal Stephenson's "The Diamond Age" were also a smart mob, with individuals playing the part of components of a large computer.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The people who make up smart mobs cooperate in ways never before possible because they carry devices that possess both communication and computing capabilities....

    Is this the start of a Borg society?
  • by greenjinjo ( 580285 ) on Saturday February 01, 2003 @04:52PM (#5205627)

    I remember reading about severe soccer related riots in Rotterdam in '99. The police had great trouble containing the riots because people were calling on their mobile phones detailing the position of the police agents.

    I always wondered why they did not shut down the cellular antennas that day. There is probably a law that forbids the police to do that.

    How can you control rioteers if they have this communications advantage?

    • That's not a communication advantage. That isn't even communication parity. The difference is made up largely by numbers. But it's still a good question.

      Consider, after cell-phones comes WiFi, etc. At that point it becomes effectively impossible to shutdown the network. Perhaps it's better to learn how to manage now, while things can still be controlled it you really need to.
  • I know from past experience that armies of below-my-thresholds hasten point out that this was all covered by {insert name of science fiction writer] years ago. If anyone who actually read the book would like to discuss it, I'll be happy to participate.

    Yes, OSS development shares two key characteristics with smart mobs: the OSS community engages in a form of collective action, and they use online media to communicate and coordinate. Smart Mobs [] specifically looks at the new kinds of social impacts afforded by the combination of mobile communication, pervasive computation, and collective action. When OSS developers start using the Net and mobile devices to coordinate their activities, they will be smart mobby.

    Jenkins article was about the art and science of writing about the future in a way that would encourage discourse. I believe that we can have more influence on events if we understand the driving forces and critical uncertainties raised by the intersection of society and technology -- and if we have intelligent discussions about the implications. Anyone interested?

  • 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.

    If you keep out the "carry" and change it into "own"... you have the internet... And what is it used for by most people.... Download mp3, porn and troll on newgroups .... If data from the past is any foresight for the future, i'm not so sure how "smart" the mobs will be...

    Maybe technology will become smarter, people however will probably stay the same.
    • Well, the downloading of mp3's is giving the RIAA fits, so they may not be stupid. Just not motivated to accomplish the things that you feel they should accomplish. I feel that this is a crucial difference.

      OTOH, considering the way the RIAA and MPAA have been subverting the legislators, perhaps the smartest thing possible is to destroy them quickly. I'm not sure that downloading MP3s really does much for this, though. But then that's assuming that the "smart mob" wants the same thing that I do.
  • Smart mobs consist of people who are able to act in concert even if they don't know each other.
    The thing that popped into my head immediately after reading this quote was Project Mayhem in the movie Fight Club. :)
  • 'Blue light special on Western Digital drives.' Masses of ebayers rush to Kmart.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.