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NET SMART by Howard Rheingold

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

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.


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