By Howard Rheingold
Howard Rheingold is known for books investigating how technology changes communities, books such as Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution and The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. But his latest book, Net Smart, is not an investigation. Think of it instead as a handbook for being a successful member of such communities.
Net Smart is a light book, and much of it will sound familiar or even obvious to those who have closely followed his previous work. That's okay. Rheingold says that this book is for a range of people, including adults who are online but are having trouble managing their time and attention; intelligent but fearful parents of children who are going online; young people who enjoy being online but want to interact in deeper ways; older people who are puzzled by new media; businesspeople who want their employees to be net smart; and educators who want their students to connect old and new literacies. In other words, if you've been attending South by Southwest Interactive or working on your MA in media theory, this might not be the book for you.
On the other hand, it might. Even though Rheingold writes simply for this broad set of audiences, his long and deep experience with online communities has given him keen insights that others may not have. Rheingold covers several lessons, including:
- Controlling and being mindful of our scarcest resource: our attention.
- Critically examining and testing assertions (a.k.a "crap detection").
- Recognizing and developing participation skills for participatory culture.
- Understanding collective intelligence and crowdsourcing.
- Understanding social networks and social network analysis.
In sum, Net Smart is a well written and timely book. You may find it useful for yourself. But if you already consider yourself "net smart," consider giving a copy to someone who could use it.