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This is a first in a short series of posts on a great new book by Howard Rheingold: “Net Smart”.

I wouldn’t normally dedicate a series to one book but Rheingold has been a leading theorist and teacher about the online world since the early 1980s.

I’m attracted to this book because of his depth of knowledge, imaginative flair and the fact that he is an enthusiast about social media use and online collaboration without being blind to its problems and weaknesses.

Because he was in the game from the beginning, Rheingold has met, interviewed and worked with many of the key people involved in the creation and development of virtual communities (a term he coined himself).

Here’s a selection of quotes from the first few pages which hooked me in:

“One of the things I’ve learnt about social media is that the same activity can be a lifeline for one person and a distracting compulsion to others.”

“Countless small acts of self-interest like publishing a webpage or sharing a link can add up to a public good that enriches everybody”

“A significant part of the population has not yet learnt to decide when it is appropriate to share multiple lines of attention and when single focal point is necessary.” [This is not just about etiquette but efficacy]

“In previous eras, it may have been true that – it’s not what you know, but who you know. Today, how you know who you know matters as much as who you know, and one of the most valuable traits a person could have in a 21st century organisation is a knack for knowing who knows who knows what.”

If these quotes have whetted your appetite, I heartily recommend you read the book (see link below).

However, if you’re not yet convinced, or haven’t got the time at the moment, then you might like this series of posts.

Rheingold’s book is essentially about the mindful use of digital media.

He draws on a wide range of research from disciplines such as neuro-science, cognitive psychology, linguistics, neuro-economics and computer science and focuses on key issues such as the development of online social capital. The book introduces key theoretical concepts but also provides practical advice to navigate the online and social media worlds.

Rheingold focuses on five key new literacies which he argues are in the process of changing the modern world:

  1. Attention
  2. Participation
  3. Collaboration
  4. Critical consumption of information (AKA crap detection)
  5. Network Smarts

Over the next five Fridays, I shall write a post on each of these key literacies; highlighting Rheingold’s key concepts and applying them to the online working lives of readers of this blog.

Rheingold’s aim, and mine too, is to help readers understand and master the use of social networks (technical and personal) in a way that develops, rather than drains, our shared social capital.


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