Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, by Howard Rheingold. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2012. 322 pages.
Thriving online is exactly the point here --how to do it. Pay attention to your paying attention, says Rheingold --mindfulness is the one resource that is uniquely yours to contribute. Rheingold continues his work from numerous publications including Virtual Reality (1991) and Smart Mobs (2002). With a memory that goes back to Stewart Brand and The Whole Earth Catalog, Rheingold has witnessed the development of online communities from the 1980s to the present. This book is a useful and compact summary of a real-world face-to-face and virtual lifetime.
The five net literacies are (in a nutshell):
- Attention (can be trained, like a puppy);
- Crap detection (start out skeptical)
- Participation (companionship and influence lie with those who know how to participate)
- Collaboration (against the dominant narrative of competition)
- Networking (networks have structures that influence the way individuals and groups behave, and are liable to control if networkers are unwary).
By being mindful (controlling how you pay attention), filtering out crap (Rheingold's word), building a literacy of participation, collaboration, and networking wisely -- Rheingold advocates for intelligent use of a Web that can make us smarter, not dumber. He's very aware of the structures of assumptions and habits embedded in global capitalism that seek to make Web users merely data points, users to be exploited. His pages "Facing Facebook's Facts of Life" (page 230-238) are worth the price of the book, even if details may be slightly out of date given Facebook, Inc.'s ever-shifting privacy policies. Any user of Facebook should Google the simple phrase "Facebook privacy controversy" to spend an instructive hour on the numerous gaffes, mis-calculations, and deceptions that Mark Zuckerberg has foisted upon the world.
Rheingold wants a mindful collaboration --the kind of collaboration that makes academic life worth living. This book is chock full of useful suggestions and arresting phrases that will make you think about life online. Be more than a list of monetized "likes" and "gets" -- build a world in which you would like to live. It's possible to do online with a little thought and Rheingold as a guide. He's a wary, embattled optimist who refuses to surrender to those seeking only to control content for profit.