In Box

Smart Mob Rule

What began as a way to quickly spread travel directions to demonstrators is fast becoming a global phenomenon. "Smart mobs," as cyberspace theorist Howard Rheingold calls these electronic gaggles, are groups of strangers that use the Internet and instant-messaging technologies to enhance their coordination capabilities and form ad hoc social networks (www.smartmobs.com). In 2001, smart ...

What began as a way to quickly spread travel directions to demonstrators is fast becoming a global phenomenon. "Smart mobs," as cyberspace theorist Howard Rheingold calls these electronic gaggles, are groups of strangers that use the Internet and instant-messaging technologies to enhance their coordination capabilities and form ad hoc social networks (www.smartmobs.com). In 2001, smart mobs made headlines by using cellular technology to bring down Filipino President Joseph Estrada. Demonstrators used forwarded text messages to set up protests and reorganize after being routed by police.

But smart mobs aren’t necessarily anarchistic, fly-by-night operations. Some are trying to become real social communities. Consider the two-year-old Finnish art, science, and technology cooperative Aula (www.aula.cc). Aula founder Jyri Engestrom says it is "using digital technology to enhance community building in the… physical world." Among its initiatives is the so-called Hunaja Project, where Aula members wear miniature radio beacons, or "radio tags," to create a wireless network members can use to find and communicate with one another.

At least one group is trying to turn a virtual community into a real one. The U.S.-based Free State Project (www.freestateproject.org) is a self-proclaimed "co-ordinating mechanism… for pro-liberty resources," founded by Yale Ph.D. candidate Jason Sorens in 2001. Sorens believes a critical mass of 20,000 like-minded individuals is enough to form a new state government around libertarian principles — reducing the size and scope of government to a bare minimum. Instead of recruiting members at antiwar rallies or other gatherings, Sorens created an online meeting space, where he asks people to sign a contract pledging they will move to a new community that will be formed within a single U.S. state once 20,000 members are on board. Almost 3,000 people have signed up so far. If Sorens is successful, Free State members have five years to move to their new home, where they will usher in a new era of smart mob rule.

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