Smart Mobs?

Smart Mobs, is how Howard Rheingold calls the present and future users of hi-tech world. Whereas I totally agree with his theory that, “real impact of mobile communications will come not from the technology itself, but from how people use it”, for me, the question is not so much of how people use the technology as it is about how much autonomy are they seeking and in control of while using it.

In other words, its not really crucial to know how to use a technology (which can directly come with the user-friendly manuals), but to know how to know of the various ways technology can be used and not used, and to exercise an informed decision.

Technology itself comes with the how-tos. The how-tos are intended to limit the uses and suppress the alternative options of misuses. And this is where the danger lies. The technological medium makes the platform so “user-friendly” to navigate and utilize that the “users” technically never go beyond the child-like exploratory stage. In the second level of interaction of course, it is the one-way horizontal communication with the users at the receiving end. Call them couch potatoes or just smart mobs.

Using a technology is actually the dumbest thing. Not the smartest. It definitely puts an end to the process of questioning the deliberate limitations of technology, the political economy of technology (who owns it, why do we pay for it), and whose ends does the technology serve.

A content gang of technology-happy crowd is for sure a mob. But to assume they are smart has an agenda. The users in the technology world are akin to the have-nots of the class-based society. A smart mob theory assumes that a Consumer is indeed a King (like Walmart would like us to believe). This theory would suppose that its not shopping experience which has the impact, what is important is how a consumer shops at our stores to dress up smart.

But then of course we know the pitfalls of a consumerist economy and its so-called smart mobs who use it by merely contributing to the monopolists’ wealth. The consumer as a king would never allow the Waltons to rule over them, as much as the smart mobs would never allow the five telecom cos to control their devices. And we know, these are mere wishful thinkings presently.

On top of these economic divides, talk about the implications of mere “use” and there comes flying raised eyebrows and political trials. Smart mobs will need more to apply their own minds to challenge technological slavery and liberate it from the monopolists than to revel in the abilities to use the devices in various different ways within the existing framework.

I believe examples are instruments of the weak to supplement the voids in arguments. But for the humor of it, let’s assume we can at any point sitting at the coffee shop, move our digital cameras in a way that it can show us what deals are being made on our behalf between the ruling politicians and ruling businessmen in their corporate boardrooms (through wi-fi digital image transfers?) And we can accomplish such amazing things with their knowledge that we master such technology. And at the site of the coffee shop, with so many people discussing the barbaric and corrupt officials we have trusted so far in business and politics (although they go synonymous these days), we then decide basing on what we discover (and not via on CNN or Fox cameramen recording boorish default press conferences) that we must question the authorities and can provide supportive evidences.

Now that is smart. But the point is its not some covert Watergate or Tehelka operation. The government must know that the citizenry has the right to use the technology to witness any deals being discussed even at the penthouse of Hefner (that’s an interesting deviation too, to watch the bunnies apart from the frustrated powered men) at any moment. It need not result in hero-worshipping (like Watergate) or interrogating (like Tehelka) people who do this tech takes. Because the mob, the mass, gets involved entirely, to use the technology to their advantage, not to be awed by its superlatives and reserve it for some goddamn award winning front page stories, we know that are catering to one interest or the other (logically anyway, since they are done without involving the people, they are not mass acts anyway).

Remember Gandhi did not make the deals at the round table conferences; he struck them at the salt marches. The use of the technology has to go alongside the use of the masses. And the use of technology must be FULLY harnessed (come on, I know we could have seen that Monica-Bill flicks live). Then it’s smart mob using the technology smart way, so that the mob needs no longer be ruled by a tiny group of profiteers, war-mongers and hypocrites.

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

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