NET SMART by Howard Rheingold

This is a “meaty” book full of good material and with 33 pages of references.

  1. Why it's important

The printing press (1450) radically changed the distribution of knowledge and ideas. As more people learned to read, these changes led to the Protestant Reformation (1517), the invention of modern democracy (1653) and the development of science. The internet will bring similar radical changes – we don't yet know what these will be but a key issue will be whether the technology gives more power to the centre (government and corporations) or to individuals. This will be determined by what we do NOW.

“People create new ways to communicate then use their new media to do complicated (new) things together” - this is HR's fundamental characteristic of humans that gave them the evolutionary advantage to survive and create civilisation.

HR already sees new forms of powerful behaviour emerging through the web – people do collaborate without economic gain, we have “self-selected” leaders and mass wiki “commons”, protest movements have shown great political and commercial power – etc. etc.

HR postulates 5 key skills

- Attention: think what you are doing and why – be “mindful” and don't be distracted.

- Information filtering (crap detection): think for yourself and CHECK THINGS OUT

- Participation: this is the vital function that democractises the internet and prevents it being taken over by government and big business. It's important to be part of this but you have to know how.

- Collaboration: doing this effectively is what gives participation its power. The web has shown that new forms of human behaviour do not depend on economic gain. People do things for fun, self-interest (develop their skills), love of challenge, compassion, and pure altruism. (Gives examples in development of the web, wiki, linux etc.) The successful collaborations had a number of common characteristics:

Atractive work for collaborators in a variety of roles

Volunteers self-select for work and roles

Acknowledge all contributors and make decisins transparent even if not democractic

Give workers common platforms to work together on

- Network savvy: Networks are very powerful as they intermesh and multiply contacts and influence, but you have to know the geography and how it works. Building social capital” is key.

Of all these skills HR sees “attention” as the most important. Human thought processes are just part of a larger system – neurons, symbols, search engines, social networks and computational clouds. We can all play a part in how this system creates our future.

HR devotes many pages to discussing whether people can train themselves to be more “mindful” - he concludes that they/we can. Mostly by simply remembering to be “mindful”!! Like many others, he believes that paying attention to your breathing helps. Writing lists of tasks you intend to do also helps – avoid being swept up in multi-tasking web surfing on social media.

Small steps repeated at regular intervals are the best way to change habits.

Crap detection can be done in various ways – triangulate (cross check info with other sites), check authors, use specialised websites to check others (various website are listed).

People who wish to be their own governors need to be aware of the facts, be educated.

HR says “beware of the echo chamber” - a situation where you only log onto sites which agree with your views – good to have alternative ideas.

Creating “dashboards” (p.103) seems like a powerful tool. Talks about, and flipboard – ways of collating/collecting the info you want. Other new “infotention” tools are emerging – filters 70 million tweets each day, SwiftRiver – tries to sort using a crowdsource filter system. These developments are all evolving rapidly....


On line participation can translate into real political power – if you know how to use it.

Many people will co-operate if the medium makes it easy to do so.

“Network Entrepreneurship” is a key to this – build your own presence by contributing and then linking up other related networks.

Blogging is at the centre of this. Blogging has 4 dimensions – critic, filter, connnector and advocate.

You can participate in many different ways – tagging, sharing, favouriting, reading, subscribing or commenting. If you do this you are already part of the new collective intelligence of the www.

Collective Intelligence

In 1989 Tim Berners Lee invented the world wide web – he gave away the tools he had created because he did not want to own the web, he wanted to use it. The more other people used it, the more useful it would be. There are now more than 16 billion pages on the web - it has become the ultimate tool for human co-operative ventures and has spawned important new form of collaborative behaviour.

Dunbar argues that the size of the human brain is linked to our ability to co-operate in groups – remembering other's characteristics and behaviours. 148 people is the optimal size of the group in his opinion.

Today virtual communities are technologies of co-ooperation.

The critical institutions which shape human development are those which encourage co-operation in solving `'social dilemmas`` ( situations where individual self interest conflicts with what would be best for the common good).

Ostrom won the nobel prize for researching the ways in which groups deal effectively with these social dilemmas – she found a number of important characteristics:

  1. Group boundaries clearly defined

  2. Rules governing collective resources are sensible and practical

  3. Affected individuals can participate in modifying these rules

  4. Outside authorities respect the autonomy of the group

  5. Community members monitor each other's behaviour

  6. there is a graduated system of sanctions for breaking the rules

  7. Conflicts can be resolved using low cost methods between individuals

  8. There are multiple layers of nested organisations which manage/monitor/control use of collective resources which are part of a larger whole.

There are 4 stages of working together:

Networking – least risk, sharing information without expectations

Co-ordination – information shared and actions modified for mutual benefit

Co-operation – parties now work towards a common goal – more ambitious than co-ordination

Collaboration – requires more give and take than co-operation – parties communicate and modify behaviours to achieve their common objective.

Rules for life on line:

  1. small talk, gossip and chatter build trust

  2. move towards meeting common interests by building trust and negotiating goals

  3. Take risks – show you can change to meet common goals

  4. Be generous – give without expecting return

  5. Try to learn from collaborators as well as teaching them

It is amazing what internet games have created in collaboration. World of War Craft has now acbieved more than 6 million years of attention by gamers!

HR talks about 5 specific examples of internet collaboration:

  1. crowdsourcing – can be used for many purposes especially crowdfunding. It is usually centrally managed and involves:vision/strategy, human capital, alignment of motive, infrastructure and linkages/trust.

  2. Wiki - a good wiki is based on love and respect used to achieve a common goal. It uses policies of mediation and arbitration rather than imposing a voting system. Wiki means quick in Hawaian – the editing can be done by anybody easily but there are important protocols such as wikitrust and wiki-watch.

  3. virtual communities– networking hearts as well as minds. Netiquetter is vital – pay attention before you join in, assume goodwill as a starting point and jump in whenever you can make a contribution. Reciprocate if anyone does you a favour. When you start one you need to set an example – important to have decision making protocols set out at the beginning. Be patient and do not over react.

  4. social production – Linux and wikipedia are the great examples of a new type of colllaborative work which is not motivated by economic or personal gain. Where thousands each can contribute a small piece to the pot then it is possible to produce wonderful results. This new approach is also spreading into collaborative consumption (eg Castells work in Spain). The web makes sharing much easier – couch surfing, car sharing, travel deals etc.

  5. collective intelligence – a group of people can solve problems better than any individual if they find good ways to work together. Varied talents and a mix of genders helps get a good result – which is not correlated with the intelligence of the individuals in the group.

HR give comprehensive ideas about how to start and make a wiki work.


Networks are a vital way in which humans skillfully keep in contact with eachother. Several very large independent experiments have been done and all show that there are only 6 links between each and every person on the planet!

The internet has enabled networking to reach new orders of magnitude.

The effects of networking multiply dramatically (exponentially) as the size and inter-connectedness of the networks increase. This will become a dominant characteristic of future human society.

Being good at networking gives one more influence. To do this you need:

  1. to cultivate network contacts and create your own “brands” of links

  2. a big and diverse network

  3. to be flexible and be able to work in different contexts – learn the folklore of new networks

  4. to build trust and social capital – humans respond well to those who give

  5. to learn how to manage boundaries – who you communicate with and who you don't

  6. understand the technology

  7. to manage your time well – be good at “infotention”


The dilemma of getting large groups of people to co-operate for mutual interest but individual sacrifice can only be solved either with “police” or through mutual trust. Mutual trust comes most easily from reciprocity – each member seeing the value of adding social capital to achieve mutual benefit back from the group. If you want help in the future then help somebody now (it's the old rule of the countryside!).

The strongest communities are bound by horizontal ties of reciprocity rather than vertical relationships of power and authority. (Research from Italy – difference between successful north and poor south).

The importance of a Personal Learning Network!

  1. Explore multiple media

  2. Search for more info on the data/people you have found useful

  3. Follow the outpourings of the “useful” people on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.

  4. Tune your network by dropping those who don't provide useful info

  5. Feed the people you follow when you have suitable information

  6. Engage with these people at a more personal level with tact and care (initiate dialogue)

  7. Ask questions of those you follow

  8. Respond to questions

Facebook Facts of Life

Learning how to use privacy settings is crucial – and they keep changing!

You must practically assume that nothing can ever be deleted – and everything could be hacked by security services.

Social media are:

  1. persistent – it's difficult to delete stuff

  2. you can copy and paste stuff into wide circulation

  3. Scaleability – posts can be read by just one person or thousands

  4. searchability – people can look for what they want

These features have important consequences:

      1. your audience is invisible in numbers and identity

      2. context collisions can happen when the audience is very diverse (one man's meat is another's poison!)

      3. the difference between public and private content can be difficult to maintain

Privacy and Dataveillance

Almost every click you make is part of a business for some one. Be aware, you can delete cookies and understand privacy settings on web sites. Being able to have “free speech” and a democratic influence on government is the bedrock of civilisation. Currently this is seriously under threat. News management is also a serious issue. The control of mass media by big business has created a kind of artificial world which is mostly what these interests want us to see. We must all do what we can to make sure the “truth” is known.

We all have to decide whether we are going to let government and corporations rule our lives or whether we want to keep control ourselves.

HR believes that the copyright laws have now given too much power to commercial interests – at the expense of the public. (Currently it lasts the life of the author plus 70 years – or 120 years for corporations.) This seriously limits all creative work, including scientific research. This is a war over political control of information.

Parents need to try and understand what their children are doing on the intenet and why. It's no good just saying “no”.