Author: Howard Rheingold
Publisher: Perseus Publishing
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Howard Rheingold is the premier thinker on the potentials of technology and their effects on culture. In the early 80s, he wrote about PCs and predicted its widespread use and effect on work and home culture. In the 90s, he correctly predicted the huge impact of the Internet. Now he sees another technological revolution approaching: ad hoc social networks through mobile internet and communication.
Even though we’ve had cell phones for years, and they’ve really exploded since the 90s (completely changing the telecommunications industry, infrastructure, and people’s sense of decency), Rheingold envisions an already happening future when our phones, computers, and internet are one, when people can gather spontaneously and communicate in a variety of ways on the go and in clusters (this book was written and published before the phenomenon of flash mobs).
This sort of easy and cheap access leads to a lot of opportunities, both social and commercial. Most interestingly are Rheingold’s ideas of a virtual world — not our traditional ideas of putting ourselves INTO a virtual world, but overlaying one on the existing physical world, and augmenting it. Meaning, if our Palms or cells can be designed to read bar codes or information chips, and chips were planted all around the world, we can point our handheld at a restaurant and their menu and rating will pop up on the screen. We can point it at a street sign and a map will print out. Zapping a movie theater with it can bring up their showings and times. With GPS technology added to our phones/Palms, we’ll always know where we are, where our friends are, and how to get to where we’re going. And with WiFi hotspots, people can be constantly hooked up to the internet, a virtual reality, while moving around in the physical world. But with opportunities come threats to our individuality and privacy, which Rheingold also discusses.
The book begins with the popularity of text messaging (texting) in different parts of the world, but it’s the later chapters that are extremely thought-provoking: the sociological and technological implications of virtual reality, wearable computers, and WiFi, as well as an out-of-place but still fascinating history of cooperation theory. As his ideas begin popping up in the marketplace and elsewhere, this book looks increasingly like a necessary blueprint of the future shapes of our social structures.