Henry Jenkins is director of the Program in Comparative Media Studies at the MIT. In this article, he compares the new science fiction comic book from Warren Ellis, Global Frequency and the more serious book from Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs.
Set in the near future, Global Frequency depicts a multiracial, multinational organization of ordinary people who contribute their services on an ad hoc basis. As Ellis explains, "You could be sitting there watching the news and suddenly hear an unusual cell phone tone, and within moments you might see your neighbor leaving the house in a hurry, wearing a jacket or a shirt with the distinctive Global Frequency symbol...or, hell, your girlfriend might answer the phone...and promise to explain later...Anyone could be on the Global Frequency, and you'd never know until they got the call." Ellis's story responds to significant shifts in the media environment -- in particular the increasing role of mobile phones and wireless computing -- but also to speculations about their social and political impact.
It is almost as though Ellis was illustrating arguments that Howard Rheingold makes in his new book, Smart Mobs. As Rheingold explains, "Smart mobs consist of people who are able to act in concert even if they don't know each other. The people who make up smart mobs cooperate in ways never before possible because they carry devices that possess both communication and computing capabilities.... Groups of people using these tools will gain new forms of social power."
This is important stuff -- a compelling new theory about political power and social affiliation from the man who coined the term "virtual community." Rheingold offers a number of examples, ranging from the "thumb tribes" in Japan whose social life is organized around instant messaging to the antiglobalization movementís alternative news organizations, from the reader-moderation on Slashdot to the use of cell phones to wage revolution in the Philippines. Global Frequency and Smart Mobs hit the stands at almost the same moment and compliment each other perfectly. Both help to bring ideas from top research facilities to lay readers.
More information about topics discussed in Howard Rheingold's last book can be found at the Smart Mobs weblog.
Source: Henry Jenkins, Technology Review, January 31, 2003
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