New Howard Rheingold interview by Shel Israel
October 25th, 2009

Shel Israel, author of the excellent new book, Twitterville, has published the first part of an interview with me: SM Global Report: Howard Rheingold, Part 1:

With a billion people on the Internet and 4 billion mobile phones, the ability to gain information, to process it computationally, to organize collective action with others, to publish and broadcast has been radically democratized — but whether or not that democratized communication and coordination capability will lead to more or less democracy is not a function of the technology but of the social, political, economic activities of the people who use it.

The events in Iran should be an object lesson that access to digital media and networks guarantees that it will be impossible to keep the world from witnessing massive oppression, but does not guarantee the victory of forces of counterpower who seek liberty from oppression. Power always wakes up and mobilizes when counterpower threatens it.

The Iranian regime broadcast disinformation. They shut down Internet access. They ran cloaked proxy servers as honey pots to catch dissidents. So far, they are succeeding.

In China, the Great Firewall and tens of thousands of human cyber-police make sure that over a quarter billion Chinese netizens enjoy the power to do anything they want online as long as it doesn’t challenge the authority of the party.

The victory of smart mobs is not guaranteed by the power of the tools they hold in their hands. That’s just magical thinking. However, the events I described in my book were real. There were other forces at work in the Philippines — there are always other forces at work — but the SMS-organized People Power II demonstrations were a large part of what brought down the Estrada regime. The elections of heads of state were tipped away from the frontrunner through smart-mobbed demonstrations and get out the vote campaigns in Korea and Spain.


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