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Natural-Born Smart Cyborg Mobs

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, one of the authors of the Institute for the Future's Future Now blog, has a well-written and thoughtful essay in this last weekend's Los Angeles Times Book Review, examining Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs and Andy Clark's Natural-Born Cyborgs. (Free registration is required to get into the LAT site.)

Pang clearly understands the importance of Rheingold's argument, seeing it as more than simply a paean to cellphones and thumb tribes. Smart Mobs describes a vision of how technology changes humans as social beings. Linking it to Clark's less-well-known exploration of how human beings co-evolve with our tools it smart. Clark sees cyborgism not involving the implantation of computer chips into our bodies, but in the ever-closer interaction between human minds and information tools. Pang draws out the contrasts between Rheingold's emphasis on groups and Clark's focus on individuals, letting us see the underlying connections.

Imagine our children carrying — or just as likely, wearing — more computing power than sits on your desk today. Imagine them living with a constant background sense of being connected to family and friends; working and playing in smart mobs; pooling experiences and knowledge with trusted humans and virtual agents; and experiencing the Internet as a deep, abiding presence, sometimes on the edge of their awareness, sometimes in the center, but always there. After a time, their abilities to organize and act collectively will recede into the backgrounds of their consciousness. At this point, smart mobs become another of Clark's technologies — another tool that quietly extends the abilities of humans, shaping our thought but rarely thought about.

I read Smart Mobs earlier this year, and it's an important book. It sounds like I now have another book to get as a companion.

Comments (4)

Nancy Riffer:

An article at Xplana by C. B. Crawford http://www.xplana.com/whitepapers/archives/PEER2PEER_NETWORKING_IN_HIGHER_EDUCATION
explores peer to peer communication and the influence it will have on higher education. Particular attention is given to implications for intellectual property. E.g. a student will be able to take notes on a laptop in a course and then directly distribute them. Thus a lecture becomes public. This article talks about how can we protect the status quo.

My question is how would higher education be changed if we had an open source approach in which we encouraged students to share, collaborate, and create knowledge. Use of a creative commons license would allow for people to retain credit for what they have written and yet allow sharing. How much faster would learning take place if we took this approach?
Teachers would need to be facilitators of learning rather than presenters of information.

I think more of a Free Software approach to education is necessary, myself.

Jamais Cascio:

That's a great question, Nancy. I would love to see more written about the impact of P2P (as well as Free/Open Source software) on modern pedagogy.


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