Smart mob

Smart mob

A smart mob is a form of self-structuring social organization through technology-mediated, intelligent emergent behavior. The concept was introduced by Howard Rheingold in his book Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. According to Rheingold, smart mobs are an indication of the evolving communication technologies that will empower the people. In 2002, the "smart mob" concept was highlighted in the New York Times "Year in Ideas."

These growing technologies include the Internet, computer-mediated communication such as Internet Relay Chat, and wireless devices like mobile phones and personal digital assistants. Methodologies like peer to peer networks and pervasive computing are also changing the ways in which people organize and share information.

A smart mob is a group that, contrary to the usual connotations of a mob, behaves intelligently or efficiently because of its exponentially increasing network links. This network enables people to connect to information and others, allowing a form of social coordination. Parallels are made to, for instance, slime moulds.

One reason for the rise of smart mobs is the ever decreasing cost of increasingly powerful microprocessors which have allowed them to permeate throughout society — they are embedded in everything from boxes to clothes. Depending on how the technology is used, smart mobs may be beneficial or detrimental to society. Rheingold warns of the use of the technology by some to create a society similar to the one seen in George Orwell's 1984 or by terrorists for their malicious purposes.

Smart Mobs are sometimes manipulated by those who control the 'mobbing system' (ie, those who own the contact list and the means to forward instant messages to a group) and induced to cause distress and aggravation to individuals who have been targeted or singled out for whatever reason.

There is a tendency to keep the dynamics of smart mobbing 'covert', and not to discuss such incidents on the internet.

Early instances

According to CNN, the first smart mobs were teenage "thumb tribes" in Tokyo and Helsinki who used text messaging on cell phones to organize impromptu raves or to stalk celebrities. For instance, in Tokyo, crowds of teenage fans would assemble seemingly spontaneously at subway stops where a rock musician was rumored to be headed.

In the Philippines in 2001, a group of protesters organized via text messaging gathered at the EDSA Shrine, the site of the 1986 revolution that overthrew Ferdinand Marcos, to protest the corruption of President Joseph Estrada. The protest grew quickly, and Estrada was soon removed from office.

The Critical Mass bicycling events, dating back to 1992, are also sometimes compared to smart mobs, due to their self-organizing manner of assembly.

Relation to flash mobs

Flash mobs are a specific form of smart mob, originally describing a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, do something unusual for a brief period of time, then quickly disperse. The term flash mob is claimed to have been inspired by "smart mob". Since its inception, however, "flash mob" has been used by news media and promoters to refer to nearly any form of smart mob.


Essentially, the smart mob is a practical implementation of collective intelligence. According to Rheingold, examples of smart mobs are the street protests organized by the anti-globalization movement. The Free State Project has been described in Foreign Policy as an example of potential "smart mob rule". Other examples of smart mobs include:

  • Smart mobs who arrange the meet up over the Internet and show up at a retailer at a specific time and use their number to negotiate a discount with the retailer.
  • eBay — a collection of users who are empowered by the Internet and eBay to buy and sell and maintain the quality control over all transactions through the rating system. People can leave positive, negative or neutral feedback, depending on how they felt about their transaction with that seller.
  • Text messages that were sent in the Philippines, which are thought to be partly responsible for the demonstration that ousted former President Joseph Estrada. Examples of such a text message read "Wear black to mourn the death of democracy", "Expect there to be rumbles" and "Go to EDSA".
  • The 11 March 2004 Madrid attacks (11M), and the reaction from the people against the government in the Spanish elections of 14 March 2004.
  • The 2005 civil unrest in France exhibited smart mobs - the French national police spokesman, Patrick Hamon, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that youths, mainly those of the Muslim faith, in individual neighborhoods were communicating by cellphone text messages, online blogs, and/or email — arranging meetings and warning each other about police operations.
  • The 2006 student protests in Chile and 2007 Chilean government-Microsoft agreement are the example in Latin America about the smart mobs and the use of weblogs, Fotologs, Photoblogs, text messages and digital organization in a few hours. Also due to their online organization has called the attention of the press as a source of news because of the strong activism online.
  • On Jul 5, 2005, during U2's performance of the song New Year's Day at a stadium in Chorzów, Poland, the audience of 70,000 waved colored articles of clothing to form a giant Polish flag of white and red: fans on the pitch waved red, those in the bleachers waved white. This behavior was coordinated by fans communicating on the Internet.

Smartmobs have begun to have an impact in current events, as mobile phones and text messages have empowered everyone from revolutionaries in Malaysia to individuals protesting the second Iraq war. Individuals who have divergent worldviews and methods have been able to coordinate short term goals thanks to these technologies.

The comic book Global Frequency, written by Warren Ellis describes a covert, non-governmental intelligence organization built around a smart mob of people that are called on to provide individual expertise in solving extraordinary crises.

Distributed mobs

Smart mobs can also be organized to congregate simultaneously at multiple locations. Usually used to attract media attention and spread awareness of a cause, distributed mobs were used effectively in the 2005 civil unrest in France. On a larger scale, a "World Wide Flash Mob" is being organized around Geocaching and aims to be the largest distributed mob to date.

See also


External links

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