BOOK: Net Smart: How To Thrive Online by Howard Rheingold

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Howard Rheingold's new book: NetSmart

Howard Rheingold is one of the first and best writers about online culture.  He has been writing books about the  intersection between technology and culture since 1982.  He is credited with coining the word “Virtual Community” and has written a number of books about the subject, including The Virtual Community and Smart Mobs.  He was the editor of the Millenium Whole Earth Catalog (to which I was actually a contributor!), and was the first editor of HotWired, Wired magazine’s first online magazine and then of Electric Minds, which was named one of the 10 best websites of the year in 1996 and acquired in 1997.

Net Smart, Howard Rheingold’s latest book, is a look into ways in which people young and old can learn and thrive online.  Howard goes through in very thorough detail ways in which people learn online, and a variety of services, but the book is not a how-to.  As Howard says in the book, on the net the tools change almost daily.

Rather than teach specific tools, Rheingold outlines five fundamental digital literacies, online skills that will help us continue to grow online.  The five digital literacies he enumerates and explains are:

  • attention
  • participation
  • collaboration
  • critical consumption of information (or “crap detection”)
  • network smarts.

Howard also explains in great detail how attention works, and how we can use our attention to focus on the tiny relevant portion of the incoming tsunami of information.  He puts a lot of focus on how to use the internet mindfully. 

Howard Rheingold (artwork by Katherine O'Neill)

In the section on collaboration, he neatly defines the quality of participation that empowers the best of the bloggers, netizens, tweeters, and other online community participants (what is sometimes known as the 2.0 part of the web), and

Most importantly, Howard Rheingold points out that if we all individually thrive online, that there will be a societal net benefit, one that can go far beyond personal growth or empowerment or literacy.  If done properly, our indvidual small acts of publishing webpages,  sharing links, writing blogs, and creating digital media  could produce a more thoughtful society: a public good that would enrich everybody.

Find out more about Howard on his website:

There is an interesting online discussion with Howard currently happening on The WELL, one of the first virtual communities.

READ THAT DISCUSSION (and participate too!)

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 Adam Gertsacov is the co-founder and co-organizer of Digital Family Summit.  He wears many hats, including those of a professional clown, an author and publisher, an artist/educator, a non-profit administrator, a P.T. Barnum impersonator, a flea circus impresario, and the esteemed hat of the Clown Laureate of Greenbelt, Maryland.  

In his copious freetime, he blogs at and, as well as a few other places.
You can find out more about his clown work at
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