Rheingold, Howard (E.) 1947-
RHEINGOLD, Howard (E.) 1947-
PERSONAL: Born in 1947. Education: Attended Reed College, Portland, OR.
CAREER: Author of fiction and nonfiction, editor, and online consultant. Former editor of Whole Earth Review. Online host of the WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectric Link; electronic conferencing system), San Francisco, CA, 1985—. Founding executive editor of HotWired (commercial webzine), 1994. Founding member and host of the River, 1995. Founder and CEO of Electric Minds, Inc., San Francisco, CA, 1996-97. Author of weekly syndicated column "Tomorrow." Also founder of Rheingold Associates (online consulting network). Runs a private community, Brainstorms.
Mama Liz Drinks Deep (first book of "Sisterhood Trilogy"), Venus Freeway Press (New York, NY), 1973.
Mama Liz Tastes Flesh (second book of "Sisterhood Trilogy"), Venus Freeway Press (New York, NY), 1973.
Secret Sisterhood (third book of "Sisterhood Trilogy"), Venus Freeway Press, 1973.
Jack Anderson against Dr. Tek! (first book of "Savage Report"), Freeway Press (New York, NY), 1974.
War of the Gurus (second book of "Savage Report"), Freeway Press (New York, NY), 1974.
(Editor) Kendra R. Bonnett, Ace It! Use Your Computer to Improve Your Grades, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1984.
(Editor) Bonnett and Gene Oldfield, The EveryoneCan Build a Robot Book, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1984.
(Editor) Daniel Remer, Paul Remer, and Robert Dunaway, Silicon Valley Guide to Financial Success in Software, Microsoft Press (Bellevue, WA), 1984.
(Editor) The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog: Access to Tools and Ideas, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1994.
(With Howard Levine) Talking Tech: A ConversationalGuide to Science and Technology, Morrow (New York, NY), 1982.
(With Willis W. Harman) Higher Creativity: Liberating the Unconscious for Breakthrough Insights, J.P. Tarcher (Los Angeles, CA), 1984.
Tools for Thought: The People and Ideas behind theNext Computer Revolution, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1985, revised as Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.
(With Levine) The Cognitive Connection: Thought and Language in Man and Machine, Prentice Hall (New York, NY), 1987.
Excursions to the Far Side of the Mind: A Book ofMemes, Quill (New York, NY), 1988.
They Have a Word for It: A Lighthearted Lexicon ofUntranslatable Words and Phrases, J.P. Tarcher (Los Angeles, CA), 1988.
(With Stephen LaBerge) Exploring the World of LucidDreaming, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1990.
Virtual Reality, Summit (New York, NY), 1991.
The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, HarperPerennial (New York, NY), 1993.
Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, Perseus (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
Contributor to periodicals, including Playboy, Oui, Whole Earth Review, and California Living.
SIDELIGHTS: A renowned and respected figure in technological enterprise, both Howard Rheingold's fiction and nonfiction utilize his technical knowledge while exhibiting his love of language. In Talking Tech: A Conversational Guide to Science and Technology, Rheingold paired with Howard Levine to produce a lexicon of seventy scientific terms that have crept into common usage, from acid rain to Zeno's Paradox. Each term is followed by a brief, scientifically accurate explanation and a short essay, in layperson's language, intended to enable the reader to understand and use the term in conversation. Critics praised the concision and energy of Rheingold's writing. "In addition to being entertaining," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "this book contains a useful mine of information." Sarojini Balachandran of Library Journal concluded that Talking Tech "is bound to enliven both living rooms and classrooms."
Rheingold's They Have a Word For It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words and Phrases is a collection of nearly two hundred words and phrases that do not have English equivalents but describe feelings common to all cultures. Each term or phrase is accompanied by, in the words of Clarence Petersen in the Chicago Tribune, "a cogent, entertaining essay" describing its meaning and use. Critics noted that Rheingold's selection highlights both the universality of the human experience and the uniqueness of many cultures. Alex Kaksin commented in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "More than a lexicon of untranslatable words and phrases, this witty, insightful book reveals how people are thinking around the globe." John Gross of the New York Times concluded, "No one interested in words can fail to enjoy the specimens that Mr. Rheingold has assembled."
Rheingold collected several of his essays on scientific topics in Excursions to the Far Side of the Mind. Reviewer reaction to the author's eclectic magazine writing on such topics as computer networks, pheromones, limb regeneration, mind-altering drugs, and using dreams and imagery for healing, was mixed. Though some of the essays were considered dated or overly speculative, a Kirkus Reviews contributor remarked that "at his best, Rheingold ... can be entertaining and thought-provoking."
Rheingold has also authored several science-fiction novels. In a review of his Jack Anderson against Dr. Tek!, in which an investigative reporter looks to the workings of a politically conservative group's plans to take over the world, a Publishers Weekly critic found the plot somewhat clichéd, but praised Rheingold's "extrapolation" as "quite good, and the novel's climax . . . imaginative."
Though Rheingold has written on a variety of topics, he is best known for later works showcasing his technological insight. Often intended for the layperson interested in science-related topics, Rheingold's computer books offer both history and speculation on future developments and their possible ramifications, especially those related to human communities. Although sometimes criticized for his unabashed enthusiasm for the technologies about which he writes, Rheingold has also been praised for the clarity and wit he brings to complex topics. Similarly, the author's lexicons of technical and foreign terms and phrases are widely considered both useful and entertaining.
In Tools for Thought: The People and Ideas behind the Next Computer Revolution, Rheingold examines the progress of human-computer interactions. The book also profiles the earliest pioneers of personal computing, including Charles Babbage, nineteenth-century developer of calculating engines, and George Boole, who developed "and," "or," and "not" functions. Later figures outlined in the book include Alan Kay, developer of Smalltalk language and Object Oriented Programming, Douglas Engelbart, cocreator of the On-Line System, Brenda Laurel, computer gaming and virtual reality creator, and Ted Nelson, founder of the Xanadu project. In a review of Tools for Thought for Library Journal, Hilary D. Burton remarked, "This is an intriguing book dealing with a theme often touched on by others, but rarely handled with Rheingold's insight and depth." In 2000, Rheingold revised and republished the book as Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology. The new edition of the book includes an extensive afterward of interviews with some pioneers in the field, who brood over technological development and speculate about its future. Upon review of the revised edition, one Whole Earth contributor reported that Tools for Thought "remains the best introduction I know to the real history of personal computing." Similarly, Library Journal's Thom Gillespie thought that Tools for Thought was "easily the best historical perspective on the development of popular technology written to date."
With 1991's Virtual Reality Rheingold focused on computer-generated worlds. Organized as a series of essays describing Rheingold's visits with scientists working on virtual reality around the world, Virtual Reality explains the development of computer equipment that simulates the look and feel of the real world, and speculates about its future uses once the technology becomes more sophisticated. Although many reviewers felt that a work of this kind would be a valuable resource for nonscientists, not all of them felt that Rheingold's work adequately fits this bill. While Stuart Sutherland of the Times Literary Supplement claimed that "[Rheingold's] description of VR is muddled, unclear, and sometimes wrong," the Bloomsbury Review's Pat Wagner concluded, "Virtual Reality . . . is the best work to date for the layperson who wants to understand what the heck is going on, and Rheingold is a literate and witty guide."
Virtual Reality was followed by The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. In this work, "Rheingold takes us on a brisk tour of 'the Net'—an amalgam of electronic bulletin boards, online information services, and computer conference sessions connected via global telecommunications networks that link our phones," as described by Business Week contributor Evan I. Schwartz. Several critics emphasized Rheingold's thesis that, contrary to common expectations that the Internet would mainly be a business resource in the home, the typical Internet user at this time logged on to communicate with others about special interest topics. The result is the development of numerous specialized "communities" of people who have never met in person. Although some reviewers found the tone of Rheingold's discussion overly enthusiastic, a Kirkus Reviews contributor concluded, "Rheingold's central point is that there's a revolution taking place online; with this thoughtful, supportive critique, he's continuing his fair bid to be its Tom Paine." Two years later, in 1995, The Virtual Community was revised to remain relevant as the development of Internet communities—as well as Internet commerce—rapidly went worldwide. On the Economic Informatics and Software Technology Web site, reviewer Anthony Hempell commented that the first version of the book "was written as a rational, researched, and enlightened voice to give purpose and direction to a grassroots, anarchic community of ex-hippies," but that the new book "serves as a reminder of what we may be losing as the tentacles of big money and greed begin to wrap around the global matrix." Hempell further commented that "the excitement and passion Rheingold feels in being a part of creating and participating in virtual communities is obvious."
While on a trip to Tokyo, Rheingold observed many people staring at—instead of taking into—their cellular phones. He realized that standard forms of communication, as well as the early models of virtual communities, are being replaced by text messaging, a technology that Rheingold believes could lead to a worldwide social restructuring. This idea led to the publication of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, in which the author tackles the most prominent integration of technology and culture yet to be discussed in his books. In Smart Mobs, Rheingold questions the social effects of pervasive computing and ad hoc networking, in which computers and portable communication devices combine to form a type of social interaction never before possible. He defines "smart mobs" as "people who are able to act in concert even if they don't know each other." Mobile Internet has combined the convenience of the cellular phone with the vast network of the Internet, giving the user an instant connection to endless amounts of information and a rapid means of mass communication. It allows users to convey a message to any number of people at once by messaging everyone in their electronic address books—without speaking a single word.
To illustrate the current presence and effective utilization of this technology, Rheingold relates the year 2000 incident in which over a million Filipinos organized a successful overthrow of their president, Joseph Estrada, through a series of cellular text messages. While this event exemplifies the most drastic use of the technology, Rheingold points out other, more subtle evidence that mobile communication is already impacting and altering "the way people meet, mate, work, war, buy, sell, govern, and create." Those who witness an event can now publish the details on the Internet long before news networks broadcast the story. One celebrity citing can result in a mob of fans swarming a star at a restaurant or in a park. There is also strong evidence of the formation of a youth subculture that relies on text messaging for communication. In Smart Mobs, Rheingold points out that these teenagers can silently interact with a network of friends while in classrooms or in the presence of their parents. They do not feel the pressures of being late for a gathering or making plans ahead of time because they are always connected. And from here, Rheingold predicts even bigger social changes. "This book is required reading for this decade," wrote Cory Doctorow in a review for Mindjack, "the kind of prescient text that we'll look back on in 2012 as a milestone on the path to the next iteration of human living."
Rheingold envisions life a few steps down this path: a future where mobile technology and microchips may allow us to interact with "smart environments." Many readers believe that his various scenarios for the future, such as a device at a restaurant that will deliver a review from earlier in the day or an interactive map and directions at a road sign—are plausible considering the technology already available. This type of technology, according to Rheingold, would give consumers the power of choice and allow them to make informed decisions. Rheingold also predicts that clothing embedded with microchips will allow objects in the environment to scan a person and find out certain information about them. In an interview with Reason's Jesse Walker, Rheingold stated, "In not too many years, there will be more objects communicating via the Internet than people. . . . 'Intelligent rooms' could have sensors that pick up information you broadcast so that they would know who you are, and what your credit rating is, and what your record with this particular store is. . . . Our clothing, the objects we carry, the devices we encounter, and the places we encounter, in the future, will have information associated with them and in some cases the ability to compute."
"'Smart mobs' hold the potential for peace as well as for violence, for frivolous as well as for meaningful accomplishment," pointed out Rod Granger of E-commerce's book reviews Web site, "and Rheingold is particularly effective at exploring the potential ramifications of all possibilities." Rheingold speculated on some of these ramifications in the Reason interview, stating, "A side effect of this kind of future might be that nothing works and nobody knows why. . . . We're entering a world in which the complexity of the devices and the system of interconnecting devices is beyond our capability to easily understand." Other drawbacks to this level of communication include vulnerability to "spam" from an unnamable number of sources, loss of a degree of privacy, pressure to be technologically savvy for survival, and the worst of all: technological terrorism. On the upside, mobile communications—and likely technologies thereafter—give the power of choices to the masses, allow the speedy orchestration of large-scale rescue and relief efforts, and encourage populations to be educated and aware by putting vast amounts of information literally at their fingertips. "With much of what I'm writing about, there's an upside and a downside," Rheingold told Walker, "and it's hard to tell which ones are going to prevail. I think it's not either/or but both/and."
It all comes down to how the technology is used. In a Slashdot review, contributor Curtis Frye maintained that "Smart Mobs is a wonderful introduction to the issues at hand, and Howard Rheingold makes a powerful argument for an open network we can use to our best advantage."
Washington Monthly's David Propson remarked, "Smart Mobs, like most of [Rheingold's] previous books, styles itself as a report from the trenches, introducing readers to the cleverest corporate researchers and most inventive minds, unsystematically dipping into sociology and psychology, and trying to sum it all up under a single thesis. . . . A few themes can be teased out of the tangle." Propson ultimately concluded that "actual smart mobs . . . remain elusive." On the other hand, one Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that the book was "by far the best recent book on this topic, both in terms of writing quality and information, and enthusiasts will love it." Granger also praised the author's "smart, engaging style," which he felt "makes Smart Mobs enlightening as well as entertaining." In an interview for The Feature, Rheingold told Mark Frauenfelder, "I hope that if nothing else, Smart Mobs helps make people aware of [the] struggle [to actively use technology or passively consume it] and what it means to our future and helps us influence it to some degree."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Rheingold, Howard, Smart Mobs: The Next SocialRevolution, Perseus Publishing (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
America, March 14, 1998, George W. Hunt, review of They Have a Word For It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words and Phrases, p. 2.
Bloomsbury Review, December, 1991.
Booklist, October 1, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, pp. 282-283.
Business Week, December 13, 1993, p. 18; December 20, 1993; November 18, 2002, Robert D. Hof, "Coming on the Net: People Power," review of Smart Mobs, p. 18.
Chicago Tribune, March 13, 1988, sec. 14, p. 5; August 4, 1991, sec. 14, pp. 1, 5.
Contemporary Sociology, July, 1997, review of TheVirtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, p. 445.
Esquire, March, 1983, p. 252.
Fortune, February 7, 1994, p. 157.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1988, p. 813; October 1, 1993, p. 1256.
Library Journal, March 1, 1982, p. 555; October 1, 1985, p. 107; July, 2000, Thom Gillespie, review of Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology, p. 134; January, 2003, Joe J. Accardi, review of Smart Mobs, p. 150.
London Review of Books, January 7, 1993, pp. 18-19.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 10, 1988; August 4, 1991, pp. 1, 5.
New Statesman & Society, July 14, 1995, review of The Virtual Community, p. 35.
New Statesman (1996), September 15, 2003, James Crabtree, "It's Time to Get Flash," pp. xii-xiii.
New York Times, March 25, 1988.
Publishers Weekly, April 1, 1974, p. 60; February 5, 1982, p. 376; May 27, 1988, p. 46; August 19, 2002, review of Smart Mobs, pp. 74-75.
Quarterly Journal of Speech, May, 1997, review of The Virtual Community, p. 195.
Reason, April, 2003, Jesse Walker, "Is That a Computer in Your Pants? Cyberculture Chronicler Howard Rheingold on Smart Mobs, Smart Environments, and Smart Choices in an Age of Connectivity," pp. 36-42.
San Francisco Review of Books, March, 1995, review of The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog, p. 5.
Science Books & Film, October, 1995, review of TheVirtual Community, p. 195.
Time, November 25, 1996, Joshua Quittner, "Mr. Rheingold's Neighborhood," p. 99.
Times Literary Supplement, December 6, 1991, p. 6; May 13, 1994.
Washington Monthly, November, 2002, David Propson, "Mob Informant," review of Smart Mobs, pp. 55-56.
Washington Post Book World, May 15, 1988; August 2, 1992.
Whole Earth, fall, 2000, review of Tools for Thought, p. 102.
Work Force, May, 2001, Carroll Lachnit, "You'll Get Through It," review of They Have a Word For It, p. 10.
Business Week Online,http://www.businessweek.com/magazine (November 18, 2002), Robert D. Hof, "Coming on the Net: People Power," review of Smart Mobs.
E-Commerce Guide,http://ecommerce.internet.com/ (November 18, 2002), Rob Granger, review of Smart Mobs. Economic Informatics and Software Technology, http://nestroy.wi-inf.uni-essen.de/Lv/seminare/ss96/ (January 16, 2003), Anthony Hempell, review of The Virtual Community.
Edge,http://www.edge.org/ (September 16, 2002), John Brockman, "Edge: Smart Mobs."
eye Weekly Web site,http://www.eye.net/ (December 9, 1993), Allan Earle, "The Rheingold Cowboy Boots up Town."
Howard Rheingold Web site,http://www.rhinegold.com (January 16, 2003), author Web site.
Journal of the Association for History and ComputingWeb site,jttp://mcel.pacificu.edu/JAHC/ (August, 2001), David Price, review of Tools for Thought.
Keynote Speakers Web site,http://www.keynotespeakers.com/ (June 8, 2004), "Howard Rheingold" short bio.
MIT Press Web site,http://www.mitpress.mit.edu/ (January 16, 2003), description of Tools for Thought.
New Scientist Web site,http://www.newscientist.com/opinion/ (January 16, 2003), Wendy M. Grossman, review of Smart Mobs.
Rheingold Associates Web site,http://www.rheingold.com/associates (June 8, 2004), "Our Team: Howard Rheingold," short bio.
Smart Mobs Web site,http://www.smartmobs.com/ (January 16, 2003), promotional Web site for Smart Mobs book and weblog.
Washington Post Web site,http://www.washingtonpost.com/ (July 31, 2002), Joel Garreau, "Cell Biology: Like the Bee, This Evolving Species Buzzes and Swarms."
Wired Web site,http://www.wired.com/ (October 9, 2002), Joanna Glasner, "Mobile Junkies Reshaping Society?," review of Smart Mobs.*