Blog Post

TECHNO-TRAVELS:Howard Rheingold on Participatory Media and Activism

"TechnoTravels/TeleMobility: HASTAC in Motion" will take place this year in Southern California, between Irvine and LA, on May 22-24, with mobile seminars on the busses that take registrants between the different locations. (One can also register separately for the UCLA events only: here's the url for registering-- Lots is happening at the conference and for HASTAC so the title also signals our determination, this year, to turn HASTAC into more of a Web 2.0 operation--mobile, flexible, interactive, open. We're on the move.



In advance of the gathering, I'm profiling some of the speakers and events. Today's focus: keynote speaker (on May 22), Howard Rheingold. His topic is participatory media and collective action.


I've been reading his work with admiration for years. Haven't we all? Even before SMART MOBS, which came out in 2002. SMART MOBS predicted what was possible with collective intelligence and also warns that we have to think and plan together so that this amazing collective tool of the Internet and related mobile technologies can be used for good and creative purposes, not the opposite. Given his ideas, his fabulous paintings, his flamboyant clothes, and (of course) his famous painted shoes, I imagined him as a character, one of those delightful people who entertains, who always occupies the center.


What surprised me when I first met him this April was the sense of calm and quiet and attentiveness that he generated. In a conversation, he listens with a focus and concentration that is quite rare. He's not listening so he can interject the next smart remark. He is paying attention to the words and gestures and content and interactions around him the way a painter (he's a fine one) attends to details in the world before then transforming that world into something creatively subjective and personal.


I met him because he was one of the winners of this year's Digital Media and Learning Competition. His proposal is a lot like the person I met. Thoughtful, engaged. If you didn't recognize the name, you would have had no idea that the author was already one of the central figures of the information age. (You can read his proposal online, by the way, on his website, Smart Mobs. It's worth reading as a model to anyone writing a proposal in any competition--clear, engaged, making connection with the themes of the competition:


He's been an independent artist, writer, consultant for years and has only been teaching (at Berkeley and Stanford) since 2004. Like anyone who comes to a world from outside it, he is able to see that world far more clearly than those of us who have been living in it so long it is no longer visible. With this in mind, he is making a series of videos about digital youth and participatory learning. The one he has made so far that just blows me away is about attention. I've blogged about it before so will only briefly note that he starts his class by having his students shut their laptops, shut off their cell phones, and then shut their eyes. He has them think about what they are thinking, he has them attend to their attention. THEN, he lets them connect again, but already the focus is on attention--multiple, divided, distracted, participatory. That may seem like a small insight but it is, well, metaphysical.


Here's the url for the attention video. You are invited to attend!


And to anyone not yet registered for the conference and who wants to be, space is limited. Once again, here's the url where you can register and find out more of the details.



(Special thanks to Flickr photographer Robin Good for this photograph of Howard Rheingold on the move and Johnny Shoepainter for the photograph of Howard Rheingold's shoes and Joi Ito for Howard with his paintings.)


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