Rheingold Week 3 by Karen Saukas

In chapter 2 of Smart Mobs Rheingold discusses the notion of collective action dilemmas and inquires into how people cooperate within society.  A collective action dilemma is when one must balance self-interest and public goods.  Public goods are exactly as the name states, goods available to the public, such as public TV or parks.  Everything that is a public good allows the possibility of free riders, who enjoy the public good without contributing, either to the creation of the good or the upkeep of it.  As Rheingold discusses his investigation into cooperation within society he finds from multiple academics that for common pool resources (CPRs) to thrive there must be a system to monitor and sanction member’s actions.  No community likes too many free riders, so for cooperation to happen in society cooperators must recognize others willing to cooperate and interact with them.  This relates to a collective action dilemma because people who cooperate must interact in a way that somewhat limits their self-interest in concern for the continuation of the public good.  Rheingold clearly states that the Internet is a public good, so therefore we must cooperate to maintain it.

In chapter 7 Rheingold demonstrates how intensive cooperation can take place through organized conflict.  The type of organized conflict that he focuses on is smart mobs, or mobs that organize through smart technology such as mobile phones and SMS messaging.  He also draws on the use of “netwars,” where protagonist use a network form of organization, which contains nodes with links that link out to others, and “swarming,” where members of a group stay disperse until technology, such as a text message, give them a single location to meet.  These tactics have been used by many groups to organize demonstrations and governmental take over’s.  Although smart mobs have been used negatively in the past, Rheingold makes sure to mention the positive types of smart mobs, like peer-to-peer journalism that allows journalist to wear mobile cameras that capture everything they see and transfer it directly to the web.

Through both of these chapters Rheingold shows how cooperation is important for groups in society to function, especially when they are using a public good, such as the Internet or mobile technology to organize.  Both chapters also draw on the topic of the potential of the Internet to benefit everyone.  In chapter 2 he discusses how the hackers of the 1960s had a code of ethics, which stated that the web should give free information to everyone.  Chapter 7 makes note of smart mob technologies, such as Imaltima in Japan that allows friends to know when their friends are in the same area.  Although both chapters focus on cooperation and the benefit of the Internet for everyone, chapter 2 talked about cooperation within all of society, while chapter 7 focuses specifically on cooperation as a tool for people to organize through smart technology that evolved from the Internet.  They also differ in that chapter 2 talks about how the feeling of community online has evolved from ARPA to sites like eBay, where chapter 7 focuses on the use of the Internet in the present day.

My question for class discussion is, do smart mobs that are used for political activism really allow for cooperation in society, or do they just form communities that pin against others with different viewpoints?

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