Howard Rheingold Interview by Paul DiPerna | Blau Exchange


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January 30, 2007

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Howard Rheingold Interview by Paul DiPerna | Blau Exchange

  1. 1. Site Search Howard Rheingold Interview moderated by Paul DiPerna Paul DiPerna: Howard.. What led you to the Tools for Thought project, and 1985 book publication? home Howard Rheingold: introduction themes I was writing articles about what people at Xerox PARC were doing. interviews index Time Magazine made the PC their "person of the year" and their article and the popular culture seemed focus on Apple and Microsoft as the inventors of the PC, but I knew there was more to it than that. subscribe to email updates From there, I met Bob Taylor, who turned me onto Engelbart, and the story unfolded. I talked to Licklider, too. But I got grandiose and decided that Boole, Babbage, Lovelace, RSS for interviews Wiener, and especially John von Neumann were also important but unknown.  It seemed  like one story arc to me. Paul's bio and projects Rheingold's Bio I got to Xerox PARC in the first place Paul's email because I read Alan Kay's 1977 Scientific American article on "Microelectronics and the Personal Computer", and decided from that article that PARC was a cool, futuristic place to comments policy be. However I was no technologist. I was interested in the PC as a privacy policy mind amplifier. Which explains why meeting Engelbart energized me. And I got my first PC not because I had any expertise or particular interest in the technology, but because of word processing. I have been a freelancer since I was 23. So I had more than a decade of typewriters by the time I wrote TFT. Paul DiPerna: Do you see other PARC-like organizations today that are similarly innovative? Howard Rheingold: The most powerful computer at PARC when I was there was far punier than the ones people have on their desktops, laptops, and even telephones today -- the tools for creating all kinds of things from communities to markets to movements are in the hands of hundreds of millions of people. The innovation is coming from dorm rooms, not R&D cities now. Paul DiPerna: So today we have many more super-empowered individuals and informally connected groups? Howard Rheingold: Yes, that's what my next two books were about. ;) (The Virtual Community and Smart Mobs) Paul DiPerna: This actually leads to my next question.. For those college or graduate students who may read this transcript, and interested in utilizing social technologies (like the Internet and mobiles) to pursue social entrepreneurial projects�  what advice do you give them? Howard Rheingold: It's more important to understand the social, psychological, economic dimensions than to just know how the tools are made and
  2. 2. economic dimensions than to just know how the tools are made and how to operate them. You have to read the old-timers like Goffman, Benedict Anderson, Elinor Ostrom, as well as look at what people like Peter Kollock, Marc Smith, Mimi Ito, danah boyd and others are doing today. Several ethnographers in that bunch of names, and a couple of sociologists. Because what is happening now has to do with not only the expanded capabilities of individuals, but the new forms of collective action that people will inevitably concoct with the technological platforms and the media that are built on those platforms. The action is on multiple levels simultaneously, just as it is in biology. Now, it's the individual technology, the technical network, the application layer, the psychological, social, economic layers. In biology, it was the cellular, organ, organism, ecosystem layering. Paul DiPerna: In terms of collective action.. With the boom of digital and mobile media the last 5+ years, do you see a new kind of civic engagement on the horizon? I am tracking Unity08 for example.. and the initiative seems to be driven toward building a new form of online democratic process and institutions. (e.g. a web-based presidential nomination convention - and "Unity Ticket") Howard Rheingold: I see a new kind of civic engagement being TRIED, and I see the development of the technologies to do it, but again, the critical uncertainty is social, not technological: will a critical mass of citizens use the opportunity to organize collective action? We saw the fantastic emergent collective response to Katrina, for example -- Katrina Peoplefinder is only one example. And political organizing can't ignore either the online or mobile media. And Sunlight Foundation -- so many different efforts. Will they achieve a critical mass? That's partially a matter of literacy -- will enough people know how to us e the media and channels available to them to influence the system? Or is it just a pretty story? We should always be cautious about enthusiasm based on the properties of the technology -- see Benkler's history of radio. Paul DiPerna: "We should That makes sense. Reaching always be critical mass is key. The sense I cautious about have right now, in terms of enthusiasm diffusing innovations (also see based on... Everett Rogers), innovators and early adopters are still the folks technology" primarily using digital/mobile media... I'm thinking along the social side.. do you think there could soon be a generational effect as far as adopting digital media? I guess what I mean is that in about 5-10 years, people who were literally socialized by way of their cell phones and the Internet will achieve greater cohort influence (such as consumer power) as they graduate from college and graduate school, enter the workforce, and make a living. Barriers to convince them on the ways to "use" new media should be lower, I think, and adoption may scale upward Howard Rheingold: Certainly, blogs have broken into the early part of the mainstream.. And MySpace. And YouTube. All of these enterprises succeed because of their social dimension -- the potential to "go viral". It won't matter how savvy the digital natives are in the next decade if they and others don't stop Comcast, ATT, Microsoft, the RIAA and
  3. 3. the MPAA and their friends in Congress from putting locks on innovation. They can send their protesting text messages all they want, but if tomorrow's would-be innovators are communicating via a medium that resembles cable television more than the Internet, the notion that they could create anything significant and new in the political, economic dimensions will be a quaint ancient folly -- like "flower power" looks today. Howard Rheingold: Gotta go. Paul DiPerna: Ok. Thanks for taking time out to do this.. Howard Rheingold: You are welcome. January 30, 2007 Comments (1) Thanks for the interview. I think if we can harness these ideas and point people toward goals they care about, we'll find that groups of people grow in different places, and then connect with each other through networked events and linked web sites. As we add more celebrities to the mix, this will increase the number of people who participate. I'm not sure critical mass will really be the important question. Rather, I think sustaining interest over a period of months and years, or until a problem is solved, will be the real challenge to be overcome. Dan Bassill | January 31, 2007 at 9:40 PM home | interviews index | Join the email list | RSS for interviews | Paul's email Blau Exchange, est. 2006 | Blau Exchange, All Rights Reserved 2006-2008 site design by gralmy