Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Netwar & Smart Mobs

Bruce Hoffman writes about Netwar in his article, "Plan of Attack" in the July/August 2004 edition of Atlantic Monthly. "Insurgents in Iraq are forging improbable alliances to fight what some analysts call a 'netwar'", he writes. "The Iraqi insurgency today appears to have no clear leader (or leadership), no ambition to seize and actually hold territory (except ephemerally, as in the recent cases of Fallujah and Najaf), no unifying ideology, and, most important, no identifiable organization. Rather what we find in Iraq is the closest manifestation yet of 'netwar', a concept defined in 1992 by RAND analyst John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt as unconventional warfare involving flat, segmented networks instead of hierarchies and command-and-control systems (no matter how primitive) that have governed traditional insurgent organizations. The insurgency in Iraq is taking place in an ambiguous and constantly shifting environment, with constellations of cells and individuals gravitating toward one another - to carry out armed attacks, exchange intelligence, trade weapons and engage in joint training - and then dispersing never to operate together again."

This sounds an awful lot like what author Howard Rheingold calls "smart mobs". In his book, Smart Mobs (2002) he writes, "Location-sensing wireless organizers, wireless networks, and community supercomputing collectives all have one thing in common: They enable people to act together in new ways and in situations where collective action was not possible before. An unanticipated convergence of technologies is suggesting new responses to civilization's founding question, How can competing individuals learn to work cooperatively?" Rheingold defines smart mobs: “Smart mobs consist of people who are able to act in concert even if they don’t know each other. The people who make up smart mobs cooperate in ways never before possible because they carry devices that possess both communication and computing capabilities. Their mobile devices connect them with other information devices in their environment…”

I've not heard about the Iraqi insurgents' use of technology. Rheingold describes a number of instances where smart mobs engaged in a form of netwar:

- Overthrow of President Estrada in the Philippines (2001)

- The Battle of Seattle (WTO) (1999)

- Gasoline price protest in Britain (2000)

- Violent political demonstration in Toronto

- Critical mass demonstrations in San Francisco

If technology is not driving the insurgency of Iraq, then due to the situation they are in, they were forced to adopt or invent a procedure innovation. And, that means that maybe this new way of working together collectively with others is "in the air", ready to be caught by any group.

Look for an extensive book review of Smart Mobs in the next edition of The Innovation Road Map Magazine.

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