Group Unity in the Age of Social Technologies

In Smart Mobs, Rheingold specifically addresses the social communities that can result from use of quickly developing social technologies. The title of the chapter, “The Power of the Mobile Many,” specifically interested me, especially in relation to one of the chapter’s main points, the mobile ad hoc social networks. By this seemingly complex term, Rheingold means “smart mob” or “the new social form made possible by the combination of computation, communication, reputation, and location awareness” (169-70). The concept of a smart mob has to do greatly with social media’s power to unify large groups of people, but more importantly, to do so quickly. Rheingold explains that, through the use of these advancing social technologies, users are social “nodes” who each have respective “links” to other users of social technology, relationships that foster a sense of technological community that allow massive groups of people to have larger-scale effects (170). It is in this sense that the interconnectedness of mobile users allow power to be attributed to this “mobile many.” Simply because of the ability to quickly connect and use links and connections to organize, mobile users can have massive social impact, as exemplified through the fall of Philippines President Joseph Estrada in 2001 at the hands of a social mob and mass mobile organization (157).

The importance of “Meetup” in the context of the group Stay at Home Moms that Shirky presents in Here Comes Everybody certainly reinforces this idea. Shirky explains that “the popularity of groups like Stay at Home Moms indicates that Meetup’s utility in helping people gather in the real world is valuable enough to get the attention of people who are too busy for most new technologies” (202). This specific idea relates directly to Rheingold’s explanation that mobile technologies create and unite massive groups who aren’t readily available. Shirky further addresses this idea in the book’s epilogue when he suggests that the most obvious change that will be brought about by these technologies “is that we are going to get more groups,” and that the “increased flexibility and power for group action will have more good effects than bad ones” (295-96).

What does the speed with which these groups are created imply about their strength? If more and more groups are created, “more than ever before,” does this mean that each group will have less members, less strength, and therefore less power to effect social change (Shirky 295)? If so, than when do these groups become arbitrary and indistinguishable from one another?

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