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Smart Political Mobs
Alex Steffen, 25 Mar 04

Howard Rheingold's really kicking ass these days. To be more precise, Howard (who I should admit is a friend of ours) has become, for my money, our most astutue observer of how technology -- especially networked wireless technologies, such as mobile phones and WiFi -- are terraforming our political landscape.

Here are two of the better recent windows on his thinking:

Blogging on his speech at SXSW, laying out some of the bigger-picture implications of his work:

"This combination of the telephone, the PC, and the Internet is kind of like looking at the future of the PC in 1980 or the Net in 1990. The changes I look at have to do with collective action. A lot of people misread that as collectivism, which is central control. The stock market is collective action. The fact that the Internet is a commons didn't prevent Jerry Yang from becoming a millionaire. You can't exclude anybody from that resource. There are some resources that are best treated as private property, and there are some that should be treated as commons. The people who try to fence off the commons and charge for it have the ears of the people in power. But they don't have control of the people with devices who self-organize."

and this Businessweek interview where he discusses the implications of his findings on politics:

"Q: What other role can smart mobs play in politics?
"A: This is even being used in Kenya and Ghana. What was interesting there was that in those places, you have an infrastructure problem and a corruption problem, so the question of whether the votes were corrupted between the remote polling places and the central counting stations was dealt with by observers at the polls with telephones, text messages, sometimes in combination with radio stations.

"There's also some effort in the U.S. for people at polling places here to use a combination of the Internet and mobile telephones to report any kind of irregularities that can legally be disputed. So there's a role [for these technologies] in keeping elections honest. "

Finally, if you're interested in this kind of stuff, you really ought to follow the Smart Mobs blog, which is consistantly excellent.

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